Authors: Gail Bowen
After Riel and Leland agreed to participate in the documentary, our local producer arranged for an up-close and personal interview with each man. The segments had been shot simply, using an off-camera interviewer. Leland had long been a friend as well as a client of Zack’s, and I had come to know him in the months before his death. We were running partners for a time, and as I watched the rough-cut and listened to him talk about his dream of transforming our derelict neighbourhood into a vibrant community, it was impossible to believe he was dead. “There can be no phoenix without the ashes,” he said. The passion in Leland’s voice caused tears to sting my eyes.
But it was Riel’s appearance that riveted my attention. The man on my
screen was powerful and healthy, and in the interview he was forceful and confident. As he spoke of the life-changing effect the new centre would have on North Central’s children and adolescents, his voice was fervent.
My mind drifted to moments that Riel and our family had shared. The images were sharp-edged: Riel building a child-sized ice cream stand for the girls; Riel’s arms around Mieka as they watched the girls swim; Mieka’s face soft with pride as Riel presented Margot with a Métis scarf at Leland’s funeral.
But there were darker memories. Riel was often scathing about the comfort of Zack’s and my life, and he and I had clashed over April’s Place. Mieka and Lisa had worked with members of the community to make certain it met the neighbourhood’s needs. Riel was usually supportive, but in moments of anger, he dismissed April’s Place as a sop to divert the community from pressing for everything that was rightfully theirs.
Whatever his mood, Riel had always been bracingly vital. The man I’d seen at the construction site this morning seemed defeated, a tired grey shadow of the man on my screen.
I’d just finished making a plate of tuna salad sandwiches when Zack and Margot arrived. Margot kicked off her boots, slipped off her coat, and looked dubiously towards the stools ranged around the butcher-block table in the kitchen.
“Why don’t we sit in the dining room,” I suggested. “Everything’s ready. What’s your beverage of choice?”
“Milk, please.” Margot said.
“Milk sounds good,” Zack said.
I brought in a tray with sandwiches, plates, napkins, three glasses of milk, and a bowl of potato chips. Margot bit into her sandwich and made an approving sound. “I was starving. These days I’m always hungry.”
“Eating for two,” Zack said sagely.
Margot was withering. “Racette-Hunter is paying you a dollar a year for those insights, and Big Guy, you’re worth every penny.”
Zack raised his glass to her. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
Margot and Zack had been sparring partners long before I came on the scene, and I’d learned that there were times
when it was wise to change the subject. “How did the meeting with the Webers go?” I asked.
“Very well,” Zack said. “Especially because Brock Poitras has become the newest member of the Racette-Hunter working team, and today was his first meeting.”
“Brock’s name is familiar,” I said.
“He played for the Riders,” Zack said. “He also has an M.B.A.; he grew up in North Central; and he speaks Cree. Construction of the centre is moving along well. What Racette-Hunter needs now is someone to convince the decision makers that they have to start opening doors for people who need a chance.”
“Brock is the perfect candidate,” Margot said. “He’s done it all. He’s high profile, so he’ll help with fundraising, and he can brainstorm with business leaders about how to set up internships and mentoring and job shadowing programs for the unemployed or the underemployed.”
“Wow,” I said. “You were lucky to get him.”
Margot sighed. “We haven’t got him yet. Brock’s on loan from Blackwell Investments.”
Zack leaned forward in his chair. “But he doesn’t belong there. At Blackwell everybody spends the day hunched over their smartphones waiting for the latest news from Bloomberg. Brock has way too much potential to spend his life staring at a spreadsheet.”
Margot had just taken a bite of her sandwich. She waved her hand to indicate that as soon as she’d finished, she wanted to talk. When she was ready, she was even more enthusiastic than Zack. “Jo, if you could have seen Brock with the Webers, you’d know why we need him permanently at Racette-Hunter. It turns out that Warren Weber is a big fan of the Riders, so when Brock made the pitch, Warren was receptive. Brock didn’t waste his chance. His argument was cogent and passionate. Warren was writing out the cheque before Brock finished.”
“Good news all around,” I said. I took a breath. “Riel was at that meeting, wasn’t he?” I said.
“Yep,” Zack said, “and that was the one fly in the ointment.”
“Well, for starters,” Zack said, “despite the fact that Brock’s argument was dynamite, Riel nodded off.”
“He had a bad night,” I said. “Something upset him and he walked out. Mieka said he didn’t get back till this morning.”
Margot finished her milk. “I’m sorry Riel’s having problems,” she said, “but it would have been better for everybody if he had stayed at home to catch up on his rest. Having the R-H community liaison officer snore loudly during a colleague’s presentation to a potential donor didn’t speak highly for our level of commitment.”
“He’s obviously having an off day,” I said. “But he’s done good work for Racette-Hunter. I just watched the rough-cut of
For the Common Good
, and it’s a powerful piece.”
Margot picked up her sandwich. “Did the network include the footage the Nation
camera guy shot today?”
“They haven’t had time to edit it,” I said. “But I know what you’re getting at. Riel looked terrible this morning, but that can be fixed in the edit suite.”
“I think the problem might be something the edit suite can’t fix,” Margot said. “Jo, I hate to even say the words, but is it possible that Riel’s using again?”
My stomach clenched. “He’s been clean for three years,” I said. “Before he moved in with Mieka, Riel promised her the drugs were in his past. He has problems, but he loves Mieka and he loves the girls. When I watched the rough-cut, it was clear that Riel’s health has deteriorated, but I can’t believe he’s using again. Maybe he has a medical problem or an emotional one. Depression and anxiety can wreak havoc.”
“I agree he doesn’t seem well,” Zack agreed. “But that doesn’t mean he gets a free pass as far as his work is concerned. When Riel finally woke up during Brock’s presentation to the Webers, he asked a couple of questions to which he would have known the answers if he’d stayed awake, then he got up and left. No apologies. No goodbyes. No nothing.”
“That’s not like him,” I said. I took a bite of sandwich. Suddenly it tasted like cardboard, but I chewed dutifully.
“It isn’t,” Margot said. “So what do we do?”
“Let’s work on Joanne’s assumption that the problem is medical,” Zack said. “We’ll urge Riel to see a doctor, and if Joanne’s right, Riel can take medical leave until he’s ready to work again. I’ll talk to him.”
“No,” I said. “Mieka should talk to him. He loves her. I’ve never doubted that for a moment. I told Mieka we’d take the girls tonight. She and Riel need some time alone to work this through.”
“Fine,” Zack said. “But the sooner this is taken care of, the better. Racette-Hunter is on target to open Labour Day weekend. We can’t afford any stumbles.”
When I called Mieka to tell her that we were all concerned that Riel’s health or personal issues were getting in the way of his job, her reaction surprised me. She seemed relieved. “Riel’s been insisting that there’s nothing wrong – that he’s absolutely fine,” she said. “If I can tell him that people he respects are concerned, too, he’ll
to listen, and if he knows his job is on the line, he’ll have to do something.”
“Make sure he knows we’re on his side, Mieka.”
“I will. I’m not looking forward to tonight, but whatever’s going on with Riel has to be dealt with. I’m relieved it’s finally come to a head.”
Seemingly, it was a day for decisions. In mid-afternoon, Zack and I drove to our house on the creek to decide whether we were ready to sell. We had asked O’Neill and Son, the contractors, to restore the house to a state as close as possible to the way it had been before the explosion, and they had followed our instructions to the letter. When Zack pulled into the driveway, he was wistful. “Home again,” he said.
“Is that how it feels to you?”
“Everything looks just the same,” he said. “It’s tempting to believe that our old life is just waiting for us behind the front door.”
“It is tempting,” I said. “But we both know it’s not that simple. I think the O’Neills may have an inkling that we haven’t completely made up our minds yet. You’ll notice the accessibility ramp to the front door is temporary.”
“Let’s check the house out,” Zack said. “Reassure ourselves that one way or the other, we’re making the right decision.”
As we moved through the silent, empty rooms, I experienced the Alice-through-the-looking-glass feeling that had enveloped me so often during the weeks following the bombing. Everything – even the colours of the paint on the walls – was the same, but nothing was the same. I gazed at the yard. Taylor’s old studio was there, but the girl who had made art so joyfully in that light-filled space had found another space in which to make art. We had all moved along.
Our inspection was unhurried. We both wanted to be sure.
When we re-entered the front hall, Zack took my hand. “Well, Ms. Shreve, as an old law professor of mine used to say, we’ve squared the circle. What’ll it be – the comfortable past or the uncertain future?”
“I vote for Halifax Street,” I said.
“This was our home,” Zack said.
“And now Halifax Street is our home,” I said. “Everything’s temporary, Zack.”
Zack drew me close. “We’re not temporary.”
I stroked his cheek. “No. We’re forever. I’ll email the O’Neills and tell them they can forget about the accessibility ramps. I guess the next step is to put the house on the market.”
“Nobody buys a house this close to Christmas,” Zack said. “Let’s wait till spring.” He checked his watch. “Perfect timing. We can pick up the girls’ stuff from Mieka’s and be at their school in time to canoodle awhile in the parking lot.”
“It’s a Catholic school, Zack.”
Zack raised his eyebrows. “Catholics canoodle.”
Zack had a dinner to attend that night, so as soon as we got home we lit the fire and while I made the girls hot chocolate, Zack measured our martinis. We sat down and listened to Lena’s tales of the latest perfidy of her arch-enemy, Jade, and Madeleine’s account of her volleyball team shellacking the team from Holy Rosary. Then the girls put on old shirts and went upstairs to paint in their corner of Taylor’s studio.
Except for the fact that Zack wouldn’t be with us, it was my favourite kind of evening. Taylor and the little girls and I had pot roast, and after we’d cleaned up, Madeleine and Lena had a bubble bath. Because the condo’s master bedroom was on the second floor, it was Taylor’s by default. The room was very large and had a northern exposure – a perfect studio for an artist. Taylor recognized its potential, and it became her studio. The second floor guestroom was smaller, but it was still spacious enough to accommodate the king-sized bed Taylor deemed essential for a truly great sleepover. That night when I tucked the girls in for stories, Taylor hopped in with them to listen to two of her old favourites:
A Promise Is a Promise
Hide and Sneak
, Michael Kusugak’s tales
of Allashua, a rash but resourceful Inuit girl. When I started downstairs after lights out, I could hear the girls murmuring about the snow fort they were planning to build at the cottage during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and I sent up a silent prayer that they would remain close throughout their lives.
It had been a long day and I was eyeing Zack’s and my own bed when the buzzer from the lobby sounded. Ours is not a welcoming neighbourhood, and even friends who know our security number don’t feel comfortable dropping in after dark. Nonetheless, it seemed we had a visitor.
The voice was a man’s. “I need to see Zack,” he said. Even with the distortion of intercom, Vince Treadgold’s baritone was distinctive. I buzzed him in, ran a comb through my hair, and waited.
When I opened the door, I stood aside to let Vince come in. I had never seen him looking anything other than immaculate, but that night he was dishevelled. “Zack’s not here,” I said. “He’s at a dinner. He won’t be home for a couple of hours. Can it wait?”
“No,” he said. “I just punched my wife, and I need to talk to a friend.”
His voice was flat, without emotion. I felt half sick, but I managed to keep my own voice even. “Is Lauren all right?”
He nodded. “She’ll have a black eye, but otherwise, she’s fine.” He sounded as clinical as the surgeon he was, but his tapping foot showed he was anything but calm.
“Let me take your coat,” I said. “I’ll call Zack.”
Vince followed me into the living room and sat on one of the two reading chairs by the window. I dialled Zack’s cell, but the call went straight to voicemail. Vince’s eyes were on my face. I shook my head and left a message. There was nothing in the etiquette book to cover the situation in which
Vince and I found ourselves. “Can I get you anything?” I said.
Vince’s smile was wintry. “A lawyer,” he said.
“I’m working on it.”
I sat down on the edge of the other reading chair. The rain hitting the windows was soothing, and for a moment Vince and I simply listened. Then Vince began to talk. “I was supposed to catch the 7:30 plane to Calgary – a conference on cartilage restoration. I’d been at the hospital since 4:30 this morning. I had my overnight bag with me, and I called a cab to take me to the airport. Then I got a text from Lauren urging me to come home immediately. When I got there the house was quiet. So I went upstairs to our room to see if Lauren was ill.”