A few minutes in the parking lot with my phone told me Abbotsford Crescent was on the way to the airport, and that there were several empty seats available on the rest of the day`s flights to Vancouver. I called a cab, and directed the driver to the Thomas residence. Melanie had indicated only that she had phoned both parents in an attempt to find them; Carol had tried the father, but found that his phone had been disconnected. Neither, as far as I could tell, had checked the house. It was worth a shot.
Like the school, Abbotsford Crescent was set in a remorselessly residential area, with nothing but houses for most of the cab ride. None of the streets had sidewalks, and every second house sported a Block Watch sign. I wondered if pedestrians qualified as suspicious. I wondered if the Thomases did.
I was able to identify 280 Abbotsford Crescent before I saw any of the house numbers: my half-formed, half-acknowledged mental image of the place included some symbol of abandonment, and it took the form of a red and blue FOR SALE sign planted in the small lawn. I felt exposed as the cab deposited me in the driveway and as I made my way up the steps and knocked.
Only then did I realize that I had no story, lie or otherwise, prepared if the woman in the beige Civic answered the door.
It didn’t matter: my knocks were met with silence. The curtains of the windows at the front of the house were drawn, and I found myself wandering around to the back, not knowing what I was looking for. Whatever it was, I didn’t find it.
I glanced at my watch; four-fifteen. Most adults would still be at work, but perhaps among the neighbours were some parents of small children, or teenagers home from school. I walked up and down the street, knocking on doors. As I’d figured, many neighbours didn’t seem to be home; others were, as evidenced by cars in driveways and figures clearly visible in windows, but opted not to answer. I opted not to press them. One older man did come to his door, and was quick to inform me that he didn’t know the family in 280, and that I’d woken him up from his nap besides. I apologized.
At the sixth house I tried, two doors down and across the street from the Thomas house, a door opened a crack, a metal chain separating me from a sliver of a figure inside. “Yes?”
I gave a smile I hoped would pass as nonthreatening. “Hi,” I said. “My name is Kathleen Kovalevsky, and I’m visiting from Vancouver. I thought I’d drop in on Anoushka and her family across the street in 280. I don’t have a number for them, and I see the place is for sale...do you know if they’re still living there? I have a few hours before I fly back.”
The woman cocked her head, sizing me up. “That’s the Indian family with the two little boys?”
My breath caught. “That’s the one.”
“I don’t know them except to say hi, but my daughter babysits for them sometimes. Hold on.”
The woman closed the door, and I heard the chain slide off. When the door opened again, a slim fortysomething woman in a jumpsuit stood before me. She turned around and called out, “Hailey? Come down here. A friend of the family you babysit for is looking for her.”
I didn’t correct her.
A few seconds passed, and a brown-haired girl of around fifteen bounced down the stairs, stopping when she saw me. She turned to her mother expectantly.
“Hailey, this Kathleen from Vancouver. She dropped by to see Anoushka and has to fly back soon. Do you have their number?”
Hailey squinted. “Maybe in my phone. Hold on, lemme check.” She bounced back upstairs, and returned a few seconds later, the phone in her hand, as she scrolled through a list of contacts. “Here you go.” She rattled off a list of digits, which I recognized from the registration form.
“Oh, great, thanks.” I pulled out my own phone, dialed the digits, and did my best to feign surprise when an automated message told me the phone had been disconnected. “Are you sure that’s it?” I said. We compared phones and confirmed that the numbers matched. “I see their place is for sale. Do you know if they’re still living there?”
Hailey squinted again. “I dunno. I haven’t babysat in a few weeks. I haven’t seen them recently, but I haven’t really been looking.”
“A few weeks, eh?” I tried to make my next question sound as though it was of no consequence. “Do you know when exactly?”
“Hold on.” Back to the phone. “March 31. Why?”
“Hmm. She never told me she was moving, is all.” I was amazed at how few lies I was able to get away with telling. “She tell you?”
Hailey shrugged. “No, but I’m just the babysitter.”
“Did Gary say anything about moving? Or the younger one...shoot, I had the name a minute ago...” I made the kinds of flailing hand gestures that people make when they want to convey that their inability to complete a sentence is due to poor memory as opposed to never having had the required information in the first place.
“Daniel. No. But he was always asleep when I was over, anyway. And I never sat for Gary.”
“Hmm. Okay. Thanks for your help.” I turned to leave, but realized I could probably get one more piece of information from her. “I guess I’ll go tell the friend I’m staying with that I’m free for dinner after all. Hey, maybe you’ve heard of my friend; she’s something of a celebrity. Harsha Gill. Writes a column and a blog.” I was laying it on thick, enough to have to suppress a wince, but Hailey brightened.
“Oh, yeah!” she said. “I read her blog all the time. She’s really funny.”
“Yeah?” I cocked my head, casual. “You see her latest?”
Hailey nodded vigorously. “About the car accident. And the lady who took her pen, the one with the weird eye. Did she get it back yet?”
I waited a few seconds, long enough for the silence to be awkward, long enough for Hailey to tell me that the woman with the weird eye was her neighbour, to assure me there was only one Indian woman who, a few weeks earlier, had vanished with two young children from the northeast quadrant of Calgary.
I thanked the girl, and called for another cab.