Surrounded by the tools of her trade, a colourful assortment of dictionaries, phrase books, manuals and textbooks, Amelia sat at her desk, the aroma of cooked rice making its way towards her room like an overcast sky. She reached over and gently closed the door to her office not wanting to upset Duncan who was humming away, busy in the kitchen preparing his chick pea curry. Adjusting her earplugs, she started her iPod, a personal mellow mix of songstresses to bring her closer to that inner space she found necessary to do her best work, Bat for Lashes, Kate Walsh, Sarah McLaughlin, Sade, K. D. Laing, Loreena McKennitt, Jane Siberry, Kate Rusby and many others intermixed with soft classical pieces and Nordic folk music.
Duncan's strange discovery, the manuscript in code, lay upon her unopened laptop, a virtual paperweight from the past. Why would someone actually print such a text? It must be fairly old she thought. And its hiding place was a concern. Very odd. She fanned the pages and was slowly overcome with the feeling of frustration. The hundreds of specialized books in her office were of no avail. Although Duncan believed she could do anything, it was, for her, untranslatable. She put the manuscript on the table beside her desk and opened her laptop with the idea of searching the Internet to discover who lived in the flat before them. Online telephone directories were her first choice. She typed their address into the reverse address search box, the tinge of anticipation arousing a deep-set memory of Nancy Drew. She rolled her eyes, inwardly, and gazed at the magical looking-glass and its proffered information while the soothing voice of Kate Rusby sang Falling.
Well, it was a beginning. T. Laflamme. She thought the previous tenant had been a woman, but there could well have been a man involved. She heard Hugh scratching at the base of the door, his nose and then his head appeared and he looked up at her expectantly. The rich earthy scent of curry mixed with the rice clouds began to enter her office. "Do you want to go for a walk?" she asked Hugh. He followed Amelia to the front of the flat, his tail wagging, his nails clipping along the oak floorboards. At the front window, Amelia looked down and saw Mrs. Shimoda's son Paul talking to Natasha Roy the single mother of one who lived beneath the Stirlings. She quickly put on her shoes and made her way down the stairs. As she opened her front door and stepped out, Paul noticed her and raised his hand in greeting with a nod of his head before getting into his car. Mrs. Shimoda was in the passenger seat, off to dinner with her son's family. Amelia had waved and then tried to catch Natasha's eye.
“Hi Natasha, how are you?”
“Good, and you?”
“Great. How is Anisha?”
“Oh, she is fine. We were just out shopping. Clothes. Very tiring. Do I smell Duncan's curry?”
“Ah, yes,” she said, realizing that the aromas had followed her down the stairs and out on the stoop. “He is doing his best chickpea curry. Would you like to come up for dinner? There is always enough for four. We have store-bought Naan bread which is really quite good.”
Natasha looked hesitant, weary and hungry, yet having to take into consideration Anisha's moods. “Let me ask Anisha, but I would love to come up.”
“No rush, please take your time. The curry gets better with simmering.”
“Thanks Amelia, very kind of you.”
“No problem, just ring the bell and come in, the door will be open.”
Amelia turned around to see Hugh managing the last stair, an expression of anxiety on his face. She got the leash from the back of the door and they went off for a quick walk. Once she and Hugh returned, she told Duncan they might have guests for dinner. After a moment to adjust to the information, he said that was wonderful.
“Maybe Natasha knew the person who was here before us,” he said.
“Yes, it had been my motive when I saw her from the window, but she smelled your curry and I thought we could ask her about the tenant over dinner. A little serendipitous give and take.”
“I looked up our address online, the reverse search, and the name was T. Laflamme.”
“Oh,” he said, and repeated the name twice thinking it was a fairly common name. “Did you look up the name too?”
“I was going to, but Hugh entered the scene, fortuitously it seems.”
Duncan looked at her as he squished the tomatoes into the onion, chickpea, and curry mix thinking she was a bit fatigued. Her eyes were a bit red. Dehydrated too he thought.
“Maybe you should lie down for fifteen minutes. Have a bit of a rest. I'll come in and wake you if you've fallen asleep.”
Fifteen minutes later, Duncan, sitting on the end of the bed, gently stroked Amelia's leg and foot to wake her.
“I hope I didn't let you sleep too long,” he said offering her a glass of water.
“No, no, it's just what I needed,” she said stretching under the comforter, petting Hugh who lay beside her on the bed. “Odd little dream though. It was as if I was Nancy Drew and Natasha was Bess, and we were trying to open a door in a walled garden.”
“Hmm, was I involved?”
“Sorry, I didn't find a role for you in my ten minute nap dream,” she said, giving him a gentle prod with her foot. “Perhaps I should get out my old Nancy Drew books. I know The Strange Message in the Parchment is on a bottom shelf in the office.”
The door bell rang. They heard the door open and Natasha calling out hello. Duncan said he would entertain their guests while she freshened up.
“Her name was Thérèse, Thérèse Laflamme,” Natasha said, dipping a piece of Naan bread in the curry mixture at the edge of her rice. “She was a journalist.”
“Did she work for a Montreal paper?” Amelia asked.
“Not that I know of. I believe she was a freelance investigative journalist. Quiet, but very pleasant, always said hello.”
“She had a boyfriend who looked like Johnny Depp,” said Anisha.
There was a silence at the table while this statement hovered in the atmosphere mingling with the scents of curry, rice, naan bread and beer.
“Would that be a pre-pirate, or a post-pirate Johnny Depp?” Amelia asked with a wink to Natasha.
“Post-pirate I would say. A painter. A post-pirate painter,” Natasha said to their general laughter, although Anisha, being ten years old, was bewildered and perhaps a bit embarrassed.
“Very nice as well. A bit odd perhaps, withdrawn, but polite. He drove one of those old cars, what do they call them, a Citroen of some kind.”
“Was it one of those sleek long DS models?” Duncan asked, thinking of the car he had coveted when he was a youth after seeing Alain Delon in the film Le Samourai.
“No, it was one those tiny ones, a deux chevaux I think they're called. Anyway, when she moved, it went quickly. I don't think she had many belongings. Mrs. Shimoda told me after that Thérèse was going abroad for a job. It was all very sudden. I believe she had family living in Varennes.”
Duncan had instructed the girls to relax in the front room while he cleaned up. He wasn't sure if it was conditioning that prompted him to clear the table and take care of the dishes, having done so since he was twelve, order and satisfaction the reward. He sensed it was probably conditioning.
After their guests had left with many thanks, Duncan and Amelia sat in the kitchen with cups of tea, Hugh on the floor looking content but tired.
“Anisha loves Hugh, she gets along with him so well. They're so cute together. Poor Natasha. Her job is giving her a lot of stress. I think she needed a shoulder to cry on tonight.”
“Doesn't she work for that cultural institute?”
“Yes, and her boss keeps overlooking her for promotion. Natasha is so capable and smart but her boss keeps hiring people from outside who will essentially be pawns around him."
“I imagine such behaviour wouldn't last long in the real world of profits and margins.”
“Who knows, office politics seems to be rampant. It is a wonder anything gets done in the world.”
“I'm glad you could offer her your shoulder and ear. Must be hard with only Anisha to confide in. She must have to keep her frustrations bottled up."
They sipped their tea.
" Well, to change the subject,” Duncan said, “we learned quite a bit tonight. A few more pieces of the puzzle.”
“Yes, we can now look Thérèse Laflamme up to see if she has an online presence. Maybe find a contact.”
“And that deux chevaux, not many of them around. Not a car for the winter either. Might be easy to find owners of such a car.”
They sat at the kitchen table sipping their tea feeling much like Sherlock and Watson, yet not quite sure who was the detective and who was the doctor.
© ralph patrick mackay