Montréal, encore

Emily paused to look at the crowd on the platform of the Central Station in Montréal. She saw Hilda making her way through the relatives and hurried commuters to the tall blonde standing behind the crowd, keeping her bicycle from hitting anyone.

“How does she manage to look like a Givenchy model in a bicycle kit?” Emily asked.

Jack smiled. “Something about being more French than English? You’ll look like that soon, Em.”

“You’re kidding!” She punched his arm.

“No, I’m not. Her glow, her look and her confidence come from her fitness. You have that, too. I’ve watched you grow this summer.”

“Well, thanks, but I still feel like a klutz around her – and around Hilda, too, come to think of it.”

“I know what you mean. They’re quite a pair, aren’t they?”

The four of them made their way to the baggage car, where the three Americans claimed their bikes and snapped on their panniers. Outside, the air was noticeably cooler than it had felt on Chaleur Bay just the day before. Riding through the now-familiar downtown of Montréal and up the side of the Mont Royal to Summit Woods felt familiar, but the Hilda, Jack and Emily still eyed any car that slowed down behind them.

“Am I feeling paranoid?” Hilda asked, as they swung off their bikes at the front of the house.

“No more so than I,” said Jack. “But that’s probably not a bad thing considering what happened before.”

“I didn’t see anyone following us,” said Emily.

“Even if some MS-42 types are still around, they shouldn’t know that we are here already.”

“Come on in, you three,” said Maryse with a grin, as she climbed the stairs to the front door, “we’ll deal with the paparazzi and kidnappers later.”

Inside, Maryse directed them to their same rooms as before. “Jacques will be home for lunch. Settle in and join us.” She headed down the hall to the kitchen, while they carried their panniers upstairs.

Jacques came in the back door, in his business suit. “I have to go to a financial presentation at Bombardier Aerospace at two, so I’ll go from here after lunch.”

When Emily, Jack and Hilda came down, they joined the Pointreau’s in the kitchen. Over salade niçoise, beets and baked cod, they reported on their stay with the Gordon-Smythe’s and the ride around the Gaspé Peninsula.

“We’re still worried about security after the kidnapping,” Jacques said. “Pierre and his people formed a special team with the gang investigations unit to keep an eye on the movements of any MS-42 associates. Abdul and Hassan are out of solitary confinement, but no one has asked to see them, and they are on a special watch, so they can’t pass messages in or out through other inmates. While you were away, there was no activity either from MS-42 or the Forebears of the Mahdi, possibly because they simply didn’t know where you were. I can’t imagine that they’ll pick up your trail before you leave tomorrow.”

“Let’s hope so,” said Jack.

Allo, y-a ’t-il-personne?” the front door slammed, and they heard a duffel bag hit the floor. Maryse jumped from her chair with a squeal of delight and flew out the kitchen door while everyone else stood. She returned with a slender, sandy-haired Canadian Army lieutenant with blue eyes under his green beret. The family resemblance to Jacques and Maryse was obvious. His father gave him a bear hug.

Emily was closest to the door. “Jean-Pierre Pointreau, I presume,” she said as she extended her hand. He took hers in two hands with enthusiasm.

“I was trying to surprise my parents, but I am the one surprised,” he said. Emily smiled and introduced Jack and Hilda.

“Very pleased to meet you, sir, ma’am. From what my mother says, you’ve been like Emily’s bodyguards.”

Tutoyons-nous,” said Jack. “Emily’s been the one looking out for us, I think. She has eyes on all four sides.”

Lunch was a noisy affair, as Jean-Pierre briefed his parents on his training at CSOTC, the Canadian Special Forces training center. He was only home for the weekend and expected to join his operational unit by Thanksgiving for more training. Jacques had to excuse himself to go to his meeting. After he left, Maryse looked at her son and Emily.

“No paparazzi yet,” she said. “I didn’t get my usual workout this morning, and these three will have been sitting on trains for 36 hours by the time they get home. Let’s ride.”

“Great idea,” said Emily. “A training peloton.”

While Maryse cleared the table, the others went upstairs to change into their bicycle kits. Soon Jean-Pierre and Maryse were leading them on the Route Verte on the north shore to L’Assomption. The separate bike path took them through the city into open countryside, past large farms and orchards. They took turns leading. Maryse, Emily and Jean-Pierre held a drafting class for Jack and Hilda, who quickly mastered the basics of following in the slipstream of the rider ahead of them, without overlapping their wheels. They stopped at a fruit stand outside L’Assomption and devoured two fresh blueberry pies.

“That drafting really makes a difference,” said Jack, his eyes shining with excitement. “I’ve never ridden so fast without hurting.”

“And that’s not racer fast,” said Emily.

“But it would let a tourist cover more ground in a day with as much effort.”

“True,” said Jean-Pierre. “Especially in a headwind, it lets you share the load of pushing.”

They remounted and sped back to the house.

“I can’t believe that I just rode more than 100 km in four hours.” Jack dismounted easily enough, but he was still breathing harder than the others. They went into the house. Hilda and Jack joined the racers for their stretching routine.

“This feels good. Thanks for suggesting it, Maryse.”

“You’ll have plenty of time to recover over the next 24 hours.”

“That’s true.”

“Maybe you two better go take your shower first.” Maryse cocked her head toward the two younger riders talking excitedly in French as they headed toward the veranda. Hilda and Jack shared a grin. The three older ones went upstairs.

“The RS is supposed to be an entry-level frame,” said Emily as she and Jean-Pierre walked through the garden back to the bicycle parking shed. “But you looked very nimble on it today.”

“It’s deceiving, because it’s so much tighter than it should be for the price. But the truth is that I could not see having a top-end bike like the C60 or the C64 when my racing days were over.”

“Why over?”

“I’m an all-around athlete now.” He gestured with his arms apart. “That what Special Forces have to be.”

“But after?”

“Afterwards, I’ll be too old for professional racing, and this trusty steed will be waiting for me.”

“You plan to make a career?”

“Unless something happens to me, I’ll stay in as long as I still enjoy it.”

“Makes sense to me.” Emily smiled at him. He grinned back. She could see the warmth creep up from his shirt collar, and she knew that she was blushing, too.

“What about you?”

“I don’t know. When I get back, Dr. Morgan will evaluate my condition and clear me for competitive racing again – or not. I can’t see why he wouldn’t, and then I can start training for next spring. We’ll see if my form has not been ruined by all this touring.”

“I don’t think so. I was watching your form.” He grinned. She blushed again. “I mean, you were the only one out there not really working today.”

“Sure, but that’s because I didn’t have Marianne Van der Fleet or Christina Rinaldi breathing down my neck. It’s different – as you know.”

They reached the bikes. Emily picked up his Colnago and hefted it. “Lighter than it looks. Even lighter than mine.” She put it down. “What happened to the Stevens in your picture?”

“That wasn’t mine. Stevens provided the bikes for the BMO team last year.” He looked at her Bianchi. “You ride a city bike?”

“The Colnago is back home.”

“The V2R you rode last year?” Emily nodded. “What happened to it in the crash?”

“The handlebars wedged under the guardrail. Everything else was fine.”

“Except the rider.” He looked worried. “I saw the news videos. That was awful.”

“I wouldn’t know. I remember recognizing a white oak before I blacked out. Next thing I remember was Hilda’s face in ER. I was out for a week after that.”

“So, you know Hilda from Charlottesville.”

“Actually, I met her in Kansas. She was crossing the country and caught up with me when I was walking home after crashing on a solo training ride. He showed me how to fix a pretzeled wheel, and I didn’t miss supper.”

“This just seemed unsuited for long-distance touring.” He lifted the Bianchi Volpe.

“Maybe, but I’ve never toured before, and I use this bike for everything but racing. If I were heavier, or riding a more challenging tour, I might have had to buy a touring bicycle, but it’s been fine.”

They talked shop as only those who have “been in the shop” can talk, until Maryse came out the front door and looked at Jean-Pierre from the porch.

“If you don’t want to fight your father for the shower when he comes home, you might want to come in now.”

Emily gasped with surprise. The sun was licking the tree-tops. Jean-Pierre laughed.

“I don’t think Papa wants to try the new moves I’ve learned at CSOTC, Maman.” He motioned Emily to go first into the house, and they went upstairs.

The familiar routine of white wine on the veranda followed by supper left Emily with a warm feeling of well-being. Sharing life with Jean-Pierre’s family felt so normal, so right. Hilda and Jack obviously felt at home, too. They would miss the Pointreau’s.

Jack and Hilda had checked in with Pete Sayfield already, but Emily called her mother from her room that night.

“Do you have your reservations all the way through?” Katherine asked after Emily reported on their day in Montreal and the sleeper train from Campbellton.

“Yes. We’ll have to spend the night in New York, because the Adirondack pulls into Grand Central Station tomorrow night, but the Crescent to Charlottesville leaves from Penn Station the next morning.”

“We noticed that. Mark has an idea, partly because I’d like to get out of town this weekend. We’d like to meet you in New York, then drive to the Northern Neck the next morning. Is Hilda there?”

“She’s next door. Let me see if they’re still up.”

Emily went through the bathroom and knocked on the door. A muffled noise was followed by Hilda’s voice. “If you come around the other way, Em, I can get my bathrobe off the door.”

Emily giggled. “Really, you two.” She took both robes off their hooks, cracked the door and threw them in. While she waited behind the closed door, she heard Jack mutter something followed by laughter.

Hilda opened the door. Emily walked in to find Jack robed and sitting at the desk.

“Mom and Dad have an idea. They’d like to meet us in New York and drive to the Dempsey home in the Northern Neck the next day.” She held out the phone to Hilda.

“Hello, Katherine… Sure, we can change our tickets… We’re booked into the Courtyard across the street… Sounds wonderful… See you tomorrow night, then. Thanks. Here’s Emily.”

Hilda gave Emily the phone. After the usual love and kisses phrases, Emily rang off.

“You’ll get to meet Mark’s dad, Jack. I know you two will get along.”

“We should, although he might not want to be reminded about me.”

“You mean you already know him?”

“He was my CO for a tour in Korea. I had to arrest his son for shoplifting at the PX.”

“Oh, no!” Emily put her hand to her mouth. “I’ll call Mom back.”

Jack reached out and put his hand over the phone. “No need. He was fully supportive, and we turned it into another learning experience for the boy. It will be good to see General Dempsey again.”

“Wait a minute! Mark — ”

“Had already left home, which is why I didn’t recognize him in Charlottesville. It was his younger brother Bill. I didn’t even make the connection until just now.”

“Let’s go down to the studio to change our tickets,” said Hilda. That took another fifteen minutes. A half-hour later, silence reigned over the big house by the Summit Wood.

The next morning, Jacques called from the upstairs window in the hall.

“There are two paparazzi out front.”

Maryse came out of their bedroom to look. Everyone else was also up and came into the hall.

Tabarnac!” said Jean-Pierre. “I was so looking forward to riding to the station with you, like we decided last night.” Maryse raised her eyebrows but said nothing.

“What do you think, Jacques?” asked Hilda. “Can we still ride if we slip out the back?”

“Let me ask Giles what he thinks while we fix breakfast.”

They made their way to the kitchen while Jacques went into the study. He joined them almost right away.

“Giles thinks we can lose those two, if they’re just standing there. But there are often a few staking out the station and the airport, hoping to catch a celebrity leaving town. He’ll have a detail waiting for us.” He looked at Maryse. “Take them to the side. Giles will be there.”

“We’re going to be sort of obvious,” said Emily. “Three tourists and a pair of racing bikes.”

“Not that strange on our streets,” said Maryse, “we should have company in the bike lanes.”

They finished up and cleared breakfast. Antoine arrived for work, and Maryse asked him to move the bikes unobtrusively to the back door, out of sight of the pair at the front gate.

A half-hour later, the six of them mounted at the back gate and rode quickly toward Gordon Crescent away from the house with its waiting paparazzi. They took the bike trail that circled the Summit Wood Park and coasted down the Chemin de la Côte-des-Neiges into downtown. Jacques peeled off to the left down the Boulevard, on his way to work.

As the others crossed the Boulevard, a motorcycle made a right turn behind them and began to close them in traffic. In her rear-view mirror, Emily saw the passenger holding a camera.

“Paparazzi!” she shouted ahead. Jack fell behind Emily, and Jean-Pierre moved to her left. Maryse flanked Hilda ahead. The group sped up, until they were passing cars on the right.

The motorcycle got in the bike lane and closed up behind Jack. The passenger on the motorcycle trained his SLR camera over the driver’s shoulder and began shooting.

At a wide space in the road, the motorcycle sped up alongside them. Jack reached down and pulled up his frame pump. He stabbed it at the cameraman, then stuffed the pump in his jersey pocket. The cameraman dropped the camera, which jerked on his neck as he doubled over. The movement distracted the driver, and they fell behind, while the driver regained control. Just as he gunned the motorcycle to catch up, a siren and lights came up behind them. A Montréal motorcycle police officer waved the paparazzi to the curb. The cyclists slowed to a more relaxed pace.

“What was that about?” Emily asked Jean-Pierre.

“It’s illegal to drive a motor vehicle in the bike lane.”

“Gee, I wish we could get that kind of enforcement in the States!”

“As we thought,” said Maryse motioning with her head. “They’re waiting.”

Ahead on the right, they could see the marquee of the Central Station. A half-dozen photographers and journalists were blocking the doors.

“Follow me,” Maryse shouted and turned right onto Rue E, a narrow, featureless street. “There’s Giles.” She dismounted in front of a nondescript door in the grey concrete wall, where three men in dark suits were waiting. The others followed her lead, and in ten seconds, everyone was inside a service corridor and off the street.

Maryse introduced Giles to the Americans.

“You seem to have done this before,” said Jack, as he smiled and shook Giles’ hand.

“Not our first rodeo, Major. Madame Pointreau seems to attract a fair number of celebrity guests.” He led them down the service corridor, talking into his earbud radio. At the end of the hall, he held the door of the service entrance to a VIP lounge.

“We’ll wait here. I notified Amtrak that you are ready. One of their people will come get you, and we’ll escort you to the train.” They helped themselves to espresso and a brioche. They were a half-hour early. Giles and Jack talked shop and exchanged business cards, while Maryse chatted with Hilda, and Emily leaned on a column talking with Jean-Pierre.

A large, burly Amtrak police officer appeared about five minutes before the scheduled departure. Maryse and Jean-Pierre gave their friends a hug and bade them farewell. With the security detail clearing a path, the three Americans found themselves at the baggage car surrendering their bikes in two minutes and safely in their seats just before the train pulled out.

“I like Giles,” Jack said as the Saint Lawrence River passed beneath them. “He seems to have much more interesting work than the typical security firm at a bank.”

“Probably because the Bank of Montréal is such a big one,” said Hilda. “The physical plant alone would make his job like a PM on an Army base, and then there are all the branches.”

“And the paparazzi keep things interesting when the bank robbers and terrorists get bored,” said Emily. They laughed.

“If we come back for the trials, I hope I get to meet him again.” Jack grinned as Hilda raised her eyebrows at him.

The ten hours to New York passed smoothly, though when Emily went for a walk to the café car, Hilda insisted on coming along. A Francophone Canadian family with two teenagers and a little girl recognized Emily. She autographed their train tickets for them. The little girl stared apprehensively at Hilda at first, but Hilda’s smile and friendly demeanor calmed her. “Elle est si grande!” She’s so tall, they heard the girl tell her parents as they continued to the café car.

Mark and Katherine were waiting on the platform when the train pulled into Grand Central Station. Emily ran straight into her mother’s arms. Katherine seemed ready to cry. Then Emily quickly disengaged and hugged her stepfather.

“Well, Em? How was it?”

“Awesome, Dad.” Hilda noticed how Mark stood a little taller and beamed. Emily talked excitedly as they moved to the baggage car to claim their bikes. They rolled the bikes to the Courtyard Hotel around the corner and stored them in the luggage room. After settling into their rooms, they gathered in the Bistro downstairs for a light snack before turning in.

The next morning, the Dempsey van with the bikes on the rack rolled down I-295 to Wilmington. They dropped into Delaware to avoid I-95 around Baltimore and Washington, taking US-50 over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and US-301 down to the Northern Neck of Virginia. The drive went quickly with all the catching up they had to do.

James and Dorothy came out as Mark parked the van in the driveway of the Dempsey home in Lancaster County. Emily jumped out and ran to hug Mark’s parents. Jack and Hilda paused to watch the Dempsey’s gather around Emily.

“Do you feel like it’s the end of an adventure?” Hilda asked Jack as they removed the bicycles and panniers.

“I’m not sure,” he said and winked. “There’s always something happening when you and Emily are around!”

==================

Until next time,

Smooth roads and tailwinds,

Jonathan

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