Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Yes Cecil, A Long Story Short, Part Fifty-Seven

As Edward Seymour pulled on his double breasted camel hair overcoat, and then arranged his scarf in the mirror, Isabelle Cloutier, the daughter of his younger, and now deceased, former associate at McGill University's Psychology Department, Marcel Cloutier, was waiting for the approaching train at the Atwater Metro station. She stood close to the tiled wall and noticed the risk takers who braved the orange line a mere foot away from the platform edge. They leaned towards the tracks like sprinters at a field race as if their motions would hasten the appearance of the white head lights in the shadowy tunnel. Such a diversity of faces. Every walk of life. She liked the phrase, every walk of life. The early afternoon crowd was a mixture of back-packed and ear-podded students, fashionable office workers, bleary eyed shift workers, shoppers, commuters, older people with groceries, Mothers with strollers. How many languages she wondered? How many Mother tongues were humming away above the collective consciousness of this group alone? And was there a loose thread amongst them, one with suicidal tendencies testing their will to life? It could happen at any station she thought.

With a sound like a raging river and exhalations of warm electric and rubber ions in the displaced air, the Metro train entered the station to the anticipatory manoeuvres of the travellers, their loose hair dishevelled as they sought out the closest proximity to the doors. She followed a small group on to the train and managed to settle herself on a single seat as the rising triadic tones of the train's departure issued from some mysterious location at the front of the train. The notes mimicked the opening of Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra. She tapped her feet to the unheard tympani thinking of Kubrick's 2001, A Space Odyssey.

“Prochain station, Guy-Concordia,” a recorded voice of a woman announced.

No one had followed her. She'd been watching. After leaving her office at Greene Avenue and Dorchester, she'd walked through the lower promenade of Mies van der Rohe's Westmount Square, pausing to browse the expensive boutiques in order to watch for mirrored signs of a follower. She'd then taken the underground tunnel to the Atwater Station with only her echoing footsteps to accompany her. A little cloak and dagger at the beginning of the week felt good. She could appreciate its addictive properties. The shot of adrenaline, the sharp excitement, the self-centered concentration.

She generally only heard from Edward Seymour once a year with a Christmas card, so it had been a rare delight to discover a pale blue envelope in her mail box upon arriving home on Friday evening, an envelope that looked like a birthday card with Edward's still distinctive flourish of her first name. Hand delivered. Old school tradecraft. Untraceable.

Dear Isabelle,

I do hope this finds you well.

I have a request that may very well test your ethical principles. I shall leave it up to your judgement whether you can help me or not. I'm not familiar with your clearance for documents and files (or is everything now on some electronic device?) so I will merely proceed with my question. Either way, please destroy this letter once you've absorbed the information.

A very good friend of mine is/was the legal representative for a man named David Ashemore, a former employee of a branch of the Intelligence Services, research I believe. This young man (fifty-three does seem young to me) left instructions with his lawyer to pursue an investigation if he died young under unusual circumstances. He died in the fall of 2011 and the circumstances did warrant a look. His beliefs seemed at the edge of paranoia, but considering his position, there was good reason to accept the possibility he was being targeted in a manner that may have led to his early demise. So my good friend employed an acquaintance, a freelance journalist, to investigate, tentatively, in order to fulfil his legal requirements. This journalist, Thérèse Laflamme (who also uses the name Tess Sinclair) attended the funeral of the young man in early November of last year but wasn't able to glean much from the few who attended. Her attempts at following up the story by interviewing Ashemore's dentist, doctor, neighbours, or anyone possibly connected to him, met with much resistance. She suffered from various pressures working against her. All her regular connections in the journalist business apparently began giving her the cold shoulder. She felt she was being followed, her apartment searched etc. After a while she decided to leave Montreal and settle in Edinburgh having friends there. It began all over again. She then relocated to Bergen, Norway, and it was there she was met with what seems to have been a decisive action. She had in her possession compromising files of some kind that David Ashemore had left behind under the stewardship of his lawyer. She had kept copies on a small computer storage device and this had been stolen from her in Bergen, and then she had been subjected to a mysterious spray which had left her memory impaired. The complete Ashemore files and his journals that were in the hands of the lawyer were also stolen around the same time in a most professional manner.

His lawyer, my good friend, provided me with this background information. He has arranged for her to be brought home to Montreal on Sunday, and I will be seeing her this coming Monday morning for a psychological evaluation. I may be a bit rusty, but I do plan to try hypnosis to see if she can reveal anything that would point towards a reason for her attack.

If she does reveal anything, I do not plan to share this with her. It would be better if she is now seen to be free from such memories. We shall see. I really don't know what to expect.

My request: Any information concerning David Ashemore's life and his professional areas of investigation. It might very well be important to your service if something was amiss. I am really too old for such shenanigans, but the arrow of fate has pointed at me for assistance, so I must do my part.

I will be taking George III for a walk on Monday afternoon down the street to the access path to the mountain. You will find me strolling or sitting on a bench near Redpath Crescent between 2 and 2:30 p.m. Please don't take you car. Public transit or taxi please. Best for all. I can have Mary drive you back. She was kind enough to have dropped off this letter in your box today. If I don't see you, I will assume you have declined (or are away). Quite understandable. I would, however, certainly enjoy seeing you with or without the information.

All my dearest wishes,


She looked around the train car as her memory of reading and then burning the letter faded. The other passengers were in classic Metro mode, reading papers or books, fiddling with smart phones, listening to music, staring at the floor or dejectedly at their ghostly reflections in the smudged windows, the grey and black tunnel with its flashes of light slipping past like the end of an old filmstrip. She wondered if she would tell Edward about David Ashemore's family background. Was it necessary? Did a man nearing his end require but another example of the tragic sense of life? Did he need to know that David's parents were Holocaust survivors? Did he need to know that they changed their name from Auerbach to Ashemore? Who could possibly fathom the depths of their suffering and the reasons behind their choices. What memories they must have shut away like an old oak trunk in a dusty attic.

She joined the pressing crowd to ride the escalator to the light of day like weary miners after a long shift. Outside, breathing in the cool humid air, she hailed a long dark taxi and was whisked away from the the bustle of pedestrians, bicyclists and noisy buses up Rue Guy to the mountain. Easing her head back, she breathed in the scent of artificial pine freshener which seemed embedded in the burgundy plush upholstery, and absorbed the sounds of soothing orchestral strings pouring from the hidden speakers like overflowing jars of honey. From behind the quiet, dark-haired older driver, she noticed the CD case on the built in organiser between the seats, Mahler, Symphony No. 3. Simon Rattle, EMI Classics. She closed her eyes remembering a childhood friend whose Father drove a taxi even though he played French Horn with the Montreal Symphony. She imagined they didn't pay well in the 1960s. Upon turning abruptly to the right onto Dr. Penfield Avenue, she opened her eyes and began to remember her strolls along the street when she was a student at McGill University in the 1970s, a time when the street was still known as McGregor Avenue after the man who owned the land in the nineteenth century. How she would walk past the old mansions then occupied by embassies and dream of living in such grand houses surrounded by books and plants, daydreams that would help relieve the pressures of her student workload. Her Father had been pleased when they renamed the street after his friend, Wilder Penfield. And she remembered during the late 1960s when her parents had rented Penfield's summer home on Lake Memphremagog, not far from the Abbaye de Saint-Benoît-du-Lac. It had been two weeks of endless book reading, fine sunrises, swimming, and sailing. She and her sisters would descend the wooden stairs to the boathouse, lie on the wharf to suntan and try to capture minnows with a butterfly net, explore the wooded lot around the house, watch the clouds pass, and gossip about the handsome teenage boys four houses over. Isabelle breathed in deeply savouring the memories. The black and white photograph of Wilder with her Father signed by the famous doctor was on her RCMP office wall to this day.


Edward Seymour's stature and the erect figure of George III were easily identifiable and she raised an arm in greeting as she emerged from the taxi. Edward approached and kissed her on the cheeks, while George sniffed at her pant legs.

“You're looking lovely Isabelle, so glad you could make it.”

“Me? My God, you're the one who's looking fabulous. Whatever Mary is serving you, I want the recipe.” She took his arm and they slowly began strolling across the street to the sidewalk.

“Shall we walk back to the house for a cup of tea?” he said.

“Yes, that would be lovely. I'm sorry I couldn't get here earlier,” she said, checking her watch to see it was 2:20 p.m.

“Not at all. Perfect timing,” he said squeezing her arm in his. “George has had his outing and we're all content. So then, I imagine the powers that be must be keeping you busy, nose to the grindstone, reports to be written, seemingly endless meetings to attend.”

“Yes, all of the above, and more.” They walked along in silence, George leading the way. “It's a sad story about Thérèse Laflamme. I hope she can . . . recover completely.”

“I do hope so,” he said, as they stopped briefly while George relieved himself rather stereotypically at the red and yellow fire hydrant to let his fellow canines on the street know he'd been out and about. “I imagine she'll be much like a precious fallen vase that's been glued back together. From a distance it will appear fine, but on close inspection, the fractures will be apparent.”

She nodded her head as they made their way up the long sloping sidewalk. “It was fortunate I was home on Friday and received your letter. I was going in to work on Sunday anyway, so I spent the day looking into the Mr. Ashemore for you.”

“I hope you'll forgive me for spoiling your Sunday.”

She laughed. “I enjoyed it. Something different. And now that I'm on my own, I feel I have more time.”

“I was sad to hear of your divorce but as long as you are better off and happy, that's all that's important. And if you need someone to talk to, I have some very nice sherry awaiting. Anytime Isabelle, anytime.”

She gave his arm a squeeze. “Well, I guess I should begin by telling you about David Ashemore's family background. His Father was an accountant and his Mother a bookkeeper. They raised David in a secular household in a modest home in Notre Dame-de-Grace, and he attended Protestant elementary school before being accepted at Lower Canada College. From there he won a scholarship to Yale for an undergraduate degree in Political Science and he continued on for his Masters degree. His interests were international security, multilateral diplomacy, asymmetric conflicts, and he seemed to have had a continuing interest in post-hegemonic global governance. He had various relationships but never married. Near the end of his life he was seeing a married woman five years older than him.”

“Hmm,” Edward managed. “Could that be a possible motive for his early death?”

“As far as I could tell, the affair was not seen as . . . contentious. Very wealthy husband, travelling most of the year, international business, probably had affairs himself. A tolerated secret, or one well kept.” She wondered if she might have to interview the woman. “It seems as part of his job, David was monitoring the latest research and development in science and technology, and how it was being used or misused by international intelligence agencies and filtered down to various special interest groups. Essentially the dissemination of cutting edge knowledge and the techniques of misuse.”

“I am impressed Isabelle. I had no idea you could find out so much about his work.”

“Oh, I have my sources. He wrote many reports and papers. David had been monitoring the research and developments of the manipulation of the brain chemical oxytocin and its relationship with the amygdala to induce a form of amnesia. The ability to induce amnesia in an enemy instead of killing them. A weapon to render them harmless. You can imagine the applications.”

They paused awhile, Edward breathing deeply. “When I interviewed Thérèse under hypnosis she revealed a name,Yumashev. Dimitri Yumashev. Does that ring any bells?”

Isabelle retained her composure. “It could be a lead.”

“She also mentioned the word Eclipses which seemed significant.”

That name did seem familiar to her. E-clipsis Four Ltd . David had mentioned the company in a number of his reports. “Well, those are excellent leads I can follow up. Don't worry, I'll be discreet.”

“Please, yes, I wouldn't want to be stirring up a hornet's nest that will endanger you. It's now in your hands, and I shall try to forget all about Yumashev and Eclipses.”

Thinking it was a good time to change the subject, she ventured into the personal. “So, how is your favourite niece, the translator, Emily is it?”

“Oh, Amelia. She's fine, fine. Thank you for asking.” Edward didn't want to reveal that Amelia was to entertain Thérèse that very night. “She's very helpful and looks after me like Mary.” He was just about to tell her that she had visited him this morning but caught himself. “The life of a freelance translator can be a challenge, but Amelia and Duncan are managing. He's the bookseller if you remember. I hear that world is changing drastically, what with these electronic books and such.” He stopped and gazed upon the autumn wreath and flower arrangements in ornamental urns in front of a slate roofed mansion. “The world is moving awfully fast these days. I don't know how young people keep up.”

Isabelle looked down at George who returned the gaze wondering why they had stopped. “I guess we should envy George here. Your world hasn't changed that much has it George?” she said and stooped to give him a pat on the head.

"Yes, George and I are like snails under the shrubbery. Living up here on the mountain with the rabbits and the crows, above the fray, the struggle. We know it's a battle down there, one that's full of daily efforts of hard-working people trying to make a good life for themselves and their children. And then there's the poverty, the violence, the crime. We hear the sirens. Ah yes, and we're glad they're not singing for us. But, we've had our day, our own struggles." They continued walking up the gentle slope.  "Sometimes Isabelle, I feel morbidly guilty for living so long. Most of my contemporaries have already gone."

Retrieving a birthday card from her inside jacket pocket, she held it before him. "Well, I hope you won't be feeling morbid as you celebrate your your upcoming 92nd birthday! And may there be many more to come." She gave him a kiss on the cheek.

"Thank you my dear, very kind of you to remember." And as Edward walked on, he felt as if they were part of a caravan, the mauve envelope in his hand like a vital message for a Queen awaiting in some distant oasis.

© ralph patrick mackay

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