Period of Adjustment Ch. 09-11bycoaster2©
As always, my thanks to ErikThread and DaveT for their editing skills and helpful suggestions. Any errors are mine alone.
Chapter 9: Getting in Touch
I had picked up my Avis rental at the Kitchener airport and set off to the address Denis had given me. He would phone ahead to let the surveillance team know I was coming and what I looked like. I had no idea what I was going to say to Elise since I didn't know how she would react to my arriving on her doorstep.
Denis said she would be home by five in the afternoon and it was just before five-thirty that I pulled up in front of a bungalow on the east edge of town. It was a modest looking home, not very big as far as I could tell. There was an aging Cavalier in the driveway, but no sign of any other vehicle. I sat in the car, trying to summon the will to face my ex-wife for the first time since I had been sent to prison.
I pushed the button and heard a typical chime ring in the house. It was less than a half-minute before the door opened and Elise stood before me. It took her a few seconds to recognize me, and then her hand went to her mouth and her eyes went wide in surprise.
"Colin ... is that you?" She was struggling with her emotions from surprise to what I thought might be fear.
"Yes. Good to see you again, Elise. How are you?"
She seemed confused at first, then stood aside, clearly wanting me to come in. "I wasn't expecting you," was all she could manage.
"Sorry ... perhaps I should have called first. I didn't mean to frighten you."
"I'm OK ... I mean ... I just didn't expect to see you. Please ... sit down. Can I get you something? Coffee, a drink?"
"A beer, if you've got one, thanks."
She walked quickly to the kitchen and a few seconds later returned with a bottle of local lager.
"You look good, Colin. Are you OK ... I mean ... after the prison ... and everything?"
"Yeah ... I'm OK. Pissed off, but OK. But I'm curious, too. Why did you divorce me so quickly? You didn't even talk to me about it. You never visited me in prison. Did you hate me that much?" I was working up to an angry plateau once again.
"No! No! It wasn't that at all. Mr. Taggart told me that it was for my own safety. He said someone would want to hurt me for what you did. He said if I divorced you, it would look like I didn't want anything more to do with you. Then they moved me here to be safe. I didn't think I had a choice."
She looked at me with a sad expression and I began to see the light. Taggart again! He couldn't resist fucking with me. It wasn't enough to set me up ... he had to destroy everything I had. Now it was clear. He hadn't even attempted to get me off. I was the fall guy, and it was going to stay that way. Too bad he was already dead. I would have relished the opportunity to do it myself.
"Did anyone ever tell you what really happened," I asked her.
Her head drooped and her shoulders sagged. "Yes, Mr. Simard. Just last week. Mr. Taggart died, and they wanted to set the record straight. It was too late to help you, but at least I knew you weren't the man he made you out to be."
"I think the danger's over now. But five people died along the way, Elise. My parents are dead."
Her head snapped up and her eyes grew wide again. "What?"
"They were killed by a guy looking for me. They were innocent, but it didn't matter. He killed them anyway."
"Oh no ... Colin ... I'm so sorry," she cried genuinely. "They were such nice people."
I nodded. "Another CSIS agent was killed and a woman I was living ... staying with as well. I killed him, but it was too late to help the others."
"You had a dangerous job ... when you were working back then ... didn't you?" She was beginning to understand that I wasn't some cipher clerk in an office.
"It came with the job. But I got blamed for something I wasn't responsible for ... at least ... not in my mind. I spent a long time in prison thinking about what had been done to me. It didn't help me get over it. Maybe now ... with what's happened ... maybe now," I trailed off.
"I hope so, Colin. I truly hope so. I'm so sorry; I didn't know the real story. I didn't think they would lie to me. I'm sorry," she repeated mournfully.
I put my head back on the chair and took a pull on the beer. Maybe this is what I needed. At least Elise was sorry ... and I felt she meant it.
"Where are you staying, Colin?" she asked after a long silence.
"Don't know. I'll find a hotel."
"No ... please ... stay here. I have an extra room and bed. Please. I'll make us something for dinner and we can talk some more. I don't want you to just disappear again."
I looked at her and saw nothing but hopefulness. "Sure. I can do that. Thanks."
It didn't take Elise long to make a simple meal for us: Chili, a tossed salad, and rolls. It had been one of our regulars that I had relished. The conversation during the meal was limited to my compliments and thanking her for remembering something from our past. When we were done, she cleared the dishes and put them in the dishwasher and we moved back to the living room.
"Are you working?" I asked
"Yes. I'm assistant manager of claims at Holland Mutual. It's a good job and I like the people. I'm very happy there."
"Good. This is a nice house, but I gather you live alone."
"Yes. I have a boyfriend, but I'm not ready to have him move in ... or vice versa. I haven't made up my mind about him yet."
"Do you love him?"
"I don't know. I think so ... some of the time. He's very kind and very patient with me. I've told him my life story ... so there are no surprises."
I looked at her, wondering what the last eight years had done to her. I had been so wrapped up in my own misery that I had never really thought about what Elise might have been going through. I automatically assumed she wouldn't have worried about me and had gotten on with her life.
"Colin ... are you thinking we could ... maybe ... try again?" Her voice was faint and very uncertain.
"No ... no Elise. I think that's in the past now. We aren't the same ... or at least, I'm not. We can't rewrite history. We just have to get on with ... things."
I thought I saw a look of relief quickly pass. It was just as well. I didn't have any strong feelings about her one way or the other any more. It was a shame. She was a very attractive woman, perhaps even more beautiful than she was eight years ago.
We sat and talked about mutual friends from the past and I felt comfortable with just conversation. My anger had vanished, and I was happy that there were no complications between us. We could be friends, I thought.
Tomorrow was a work day for Elise, so we turned in just before eleven pm. I fell asleep quite easily, the tension I had brought along with me having disappeared as had any concern about my meeting my former wife.
Sometime during the night, I became aware of something happening in my room. In the pitch black, my first clue was the scent, followed by her naked form lifting the covers and slipping in beside me. Her arm pulled my shoulder toward her and I felt her soft lips on my cheek as she searched for my mouth. I wrapped my arm around her and held her tightly.
We made love. It was slow and patient and comforting. No words were spoken, but I supposed this was our formal goodbye. If she felt she owed me this, she was wrong, but I was not going to push her away. She needed her own absolution, and if I was the means to that ... so be it. When we finished, she kissed me again and left the bed, returning to her room. I lay on my back, thinking about what might have been before falling asleep once again.
Neither of us mentioned the episode the next morning. I quickly showered, shaved, and packed before Elise had to leave for work. We said a few words about wishing each other good luck and staying in touch, but I doubted the latter would happen. She said something about maybe resolving how she felt about her boyfriend. I wondered if that was a result of us closing the chapter on that part of our lives. Perhaps that was what she was waiting for.
I drove away from her little home with a clear conscience and a sense of having accomplished something. Questions had been answered and I knew now why things had gone the way they had. I had some peace of mind now thanks to Elise.
I phoned Denis and he invited me to stay with him and Cassie over the weekend. They lived in Toronto now. Denis gave me their address and general directions to their east-end townhouse in the old Balmy Beach area. What was once a declining neighbourhood had become gentrified, and they had invested a good deal of time and money restoring the house Cassie had inherited from her parents.
I had the day to kill, so I drove the back roads into Toronto rather than the freeway. I worked a zigzag route up through Elmira, Fergus, and across to Orangeville. Then through Newmarket to the north end of the 404 and down into east Toronto. When I exited near the lakeshore, I was almost on the Simard's doorstep.
I spent some time walking in the nearby park and wondering what might come next. My short interlude with my ex-wife had put my mind at rest and I was even beginning to reconcile Natasha's death. Perhaps because we hadn't had time to get truly emotionally involved. Or perhaps because I had become calloused to violence and used to non-emotional response. Was I that cold now that I barely felt the loss of another human being?
Cassie welcomed me with a big bear-hug and a wonderful, wet mushy kiss. "Welcome, Colin. I'm so happy you are here. It's been so long."
I was beginning to think she wasn't going to let go of me as I shook Denis's hand while she clasped me to her massive bosom. Same old Cassie, alive and happy, genuinely glad to see me, wanting me to tell her everything about my life since we had last been together. The good and the bad.
Cassandra Fortin-Simard was a big woman. Almost six foot tall and easily two hundred pounds. She was an imposing figure, but amazingly attractive for an outsized fifty-something woman. By contrast, Denis was slim, almost wiry, a couple of inches shorter than Cassie, with a shock of white hair he had shown since his early forties. They had met in school in Ottawa and had been life soul mates ever since. Their three children, two girls and a boy, were grown and gone, but they stayed in touch regularly. It had been a happy family and remained so.
"How is Elise?" Cassie asked.
"Fine. I think she's happy. She has a good job and apparently a nice guy that I think she's serious about."
"So ... there won't be any getting back together for you?" she asked tentatively.
"No. Too much time has passed. We are not the same people we once were ... especially me."
"That's too bad. I was wondering ...." She didn't finish the thought.
"I did find out what happened and why she was so quick to initiate the divorce. Taggart again. I can't blame Elise. She did what she thought was right. I don't hold any bad feelings toward her. It's over now, that's all."
"What will you do now?" Denis asked. He had been sitting quietly as Cassie and I talked.
"I have a job in Vancouver with an old acquaintance. Private Investigations. Mostly commercial and white collar crime. I'll see how that goes. I gather you've told Cassie about what happened this week?"
He nodded. "I also told her that you would be using an alias for now."
"Yes, Nathan Poirier. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to be Colin Stewart again. With my parents gone and Elise too, I don't think it much matters. By the way, I didn't tell Elise my new name."
"I understand, but things can change," Dennis said cryptically, looking at Cassie.
We talked and Cassie insisted I tell her about my prison experience. It wasn't some sick fascination, but a genuine interest in how it felt and how I survived. She was curious about how I was different now. I was vague with my answers to that question. I wasn't sure myself just how I had changed. More hardened and less trusting? Probably. Unhappy? Possibly ... or until I saw something in my future that would give me a sliver of optimism.
The conversation was downbeat and I thought it was time to lighten it up or we would all be down in the dumps together. Denis sensed what I was trying to do and picked up the theme quickly. He produced four tickets to a Leafs exhibition game tomorrow night. Damn, that sounded good. Hockey night in Canada. I had been to the old Gardens only once, but never to the new Air Canada Centre. Even if it was just a pre-season game, I was up for it.
"Who's the fourth?" I asked.
"A family friend," Cassie quickly answered. "A big hockey fan, too."
"Great ... I'm already looking forward to it."
Cassie produced one of her typical gourmet meals when guests were present. It was chicken, but it was incredible. Whatever she put in that sauce was almost an aphrodisiac. She almost always created something special, and this was very special.
We demolished two bottles of wine and a couple of heated brandies over the evening as I caught up on events at CSIS and our mutual friends. By eleven I was beginning to fade, and we all decided to retire. I was asleep instantly and didn't stir until the light through the curtains told me it was well after eight am.
I could smell coffee and I made my way to the ensuite, shaving, showering, and dressing in short order. I walked downstairs into the kitchen to find both Denis and Cassie preparing a breakfast. I was hungry and happy to announce it. Cassie just smiled as she prepared omelets, sausages, and fried garden tomatoes for each of us. It was the perfect start to a Saturday morning, and I blithely suggested that perhaps I might become a permanent house guest if she kept this kind of cuisine coming regularly.
"You'd weigh as much as me in no time at all, Colin," Cassie quipped.
I shrugged. There are worse things, I thought.
"You'd end up like Taggart," Denis shot.
That put a stop to that. A sobering picture indeed. "You just had to go and spoil my fantasy, Denis," I said, hopefully lightheartedly.
He just grinned and shrugged.
We hopped on the streetcar and rode into town to the St. Lawrence market. We spent the day there, wandering through the shops and stalls, looking for bargains. I found a nice leather vest that I thought matched my boots and bought it. What I needed now was the hat. We had lunch at a little café near the market before riding the streetcar back to their East Queen Street district.
The game was scheduled for 7:15 that evening. Cassie decided that we would have a snack before leaving. Denis made a reservation at their favorite restaurant for 10pm. Once again, we availed ourselves of the streetcar service to Air Canada Centre, the car getting more and more crowded as we headed west into the city center.
Cassie had informed me that we would be meeting our "fourth" at the arena. As we walked up toward the arena entrance, I saw an absolutely knock-out blonde standing by herself, looking around as if to find someone. When her eyes locked on Cassie and Denis, she walked up to them and embraced them warmly. I, of course, stood there stupefied.
"Nathan," Cassie announced, "I'd like you to meet Kayla Van Sand. Kayla, this is Nathan Poirier." Cassie was smooth, and had adjusted to my new identity very easily. I, on the other hand, was dumbstruck.
"Nice to meet you, Nathan." When Kayla smiled, I was dead meat. Saying nothing, I took her offered hand and gently shook it. The look on my face was a dead giveaway.
"I think he's glad to meet you too," Cassie laughed.
That snapped me out of my reverie. "Sorry ... my apologies. I'm not usually this rude."
She smiled again and we walked toward the gathering crowd at the turnstiles, Denis having handed us our tickets. I don't recall much about getting to our seats because I was too focused on the vision of this woman. I remember purchasing a program, while Denis led us to our seats, placing me next to Kayla, as I suspect was Cassie's plan all along.
The warm up skate was over and the ice was being resurfaced. I finally found my tongue and opened a conversation with the striking blonde beside me.
"Cassie tells me you are a family friend."
"Yes. My parents knew Denis and Cassie in Ottawa. We were neighbours."
"Ah ... yes ... I grew up in Ottawa too. I met Denis and Cassie when I left the army and joined Denis's company."
"Oh ... that's right, you were with CSIS too."
I was surprised that she knew Denis's employer. I decided to be coy about probing for more information. Perhaps she would volunteer some without prompting.
"I'm not with CSIS any more," I explained.
"I know. Denis told me. He told me quite a bit about you," she said, looking at me intently.
"I'm not sure what 'quite a bit' means."
"We can talk about it later. I know this isn't the place."
I nodded. That was thoughtful, but I was left to wonder.
"Are you with CSIS too?"
"No. I'm a private investigator."
"I beg your pardon!" I was caught completely off guard.
"Do you find that hard to believe?" she challenged.
"No ... no ... not at all, but ... well this is too weird to be a coincidence. I'll take you up on your offer to talk about it later."
I got a big smile and a nod from her. I began to breathe again.
When she shrugged her coat off her shoulders, I got a better look at the woman. I had already determined that she was in her early thirties. Her hair was flaxen blonde, woven in a single wide braid past her shoulders to mid-back. Her appearance struck me as pure Nordic. She had a lovely, even tan that highlighted her perfect complexion and cobalt blue eyes. When she smiled, her teeth were perfect and brilliant. She could easily have been a model.
She was tall, almost my height, even though she was wearing low-heeled shoes. The rise of her chest was prominent, and all-in-all, she was a vision. I was going to have a hard time concentrating on the game with her beside me.
I turned to her. "Denis tells me you are a hockey fan."
"Yes. I love the speed and the hitting and the sounds of the crowd. It's very exciting. I used to play a little when I was younger. I wasn't very good, but I had fun."
I was about to say something when the lights dimmed and the player introductions began. I wouldn't have much of an opportunity to talk to her again until the end of the first period. I sat back and admired the view. I had almost forgotten about Denis and Cassie when I got a not-so-subtle elbow in the ribs from Cassie. She leaned over and whispered in my ear.
"Relax. She's joining us for dinner afterwards."
I laughed and nodded. Trust Cassie. She always did have impeccable planning.
The game was a typical pre-season effort. Plenty of unknown faces, lots of mistakes, a few goals, and a few hopeful prospects that might make things better for the lowly Leafs. Their opposition, the Red Wings, looked every bit like past Stanley Cup champions, but the score was close until the end.
I found my mind wandering during the game. I had a chance to talk to Kayla during the intermissions. We kept the conversation light and I didn't probe too much. She was another fan of Cassie's cuisine, so we had that in common. I also gathered that she had traveled a fair amount in Europe, and we exchanged notes on our experiences there. She was quite knowledgeable and interested in the history and significance of the European continent on North American affairs.
At the end of the game, we joined the other eighteen thousand fans exiting the building and Denis led us on a walk uptown toward his chosen restaurant. It was at least a five block walk, but I didn't mind. The fresh air cleared my head and I was hungry. Kayla walked beside me step for step, chatting as we moved along the crowded sidewalks.