MISSING PERSON

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Chapter 34

By Thursday evening, my father had retreated to his office to work on a paper. He was still there when I went to bed, and he was sitting at his desk in a different set of clothes when I greeted him the next morning. Years of experience told me he’d be there through the afternoon at least, and that even if I was able to get him to join me to eat, he’d be irritable and distracted for the duration of the meal. I set a pot of soup to simmer on the stove and left a sandwich for him in the fridge, and asked if I could borrow his car to pick up some clothes and run some errands in the city. He grunted in acknowledgement, his eyes still on his work.

My building hadn’t changed in the past week. A handful of residents flitted in and out of the foyer; I didn’t know any of their names, and I doubted they knew mine, let alone had registered my absence, and we passed each other with wordless nods. My suite, too, was as I’d left it, impervious to the chaos that had descended upon my life: clothes on the bedroom floor, pizza boxes and takeout containers stacked on the coffee table in the living room. Had it only been two weeks since I’d last gone on a cleaning frenzy? I shrugged away the thought, dumped my bag on the floor, and plugged my phone into a charger I had to extract from a tangle of cables. As it came back to life, it showed three messages, all from Matt: identical in content and increasing in urgency. I deleted them at once.

I fished my laptop out from under a stack of papers on the coffee table, and turned it on. Still paranoid, I opened an incognito browser window, loaded the Rocky Mountain Credit homepage, and logged on with the PIN I’d created in Calgary a few days earlier. My credentials worked, and I released a breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding when the details of my account loaded. Rocky Mountain Credit’s web interface was a bit different from my bank’s, but within a few seconds I found what I was looking for. Next, I opened a second tab, and logged onto my new account at First Capital Savings. I scrolled down to list of recent transactions – all two of them – and nodded to myself. So far, so good: twenty-seven thousand dollars and change successfully transferred from the Calgary credit union to the Vancouver one.

Then, before I could talk myself out of it, transferred all but five hundred dollars of the remaining funds from Rocky Mountain to First Capital. A flood of rationalizations propelled me: it was my money, however I had come by it; I hadn’t done anything wrong; I couldn’t very well go to the police now to report all of this, not after I’d dipped into the tens of thousands of dollars I’d been paid for something I hadn’t done; and was there really any difference, morally and legally, between accepting twenty-five thousand dollars to kill someone, and accepting fifty? It seemed convincing in the abstract, but both my hands and my voice were shaking when I phoned Rocky Mountain Credit to ask them to put a rush on a transfer I’d just set up through my account online. The operator told me that for a transfer that large, it might take as long as a few days before the funds showed up in the other account. That wasn’t a problem, I assured her, wanting to end the call as soon as possible without arousing suspicion, unless she was already suspicious, because why else would she bring up the size of the transfer? I managed to keep it together until I hung up, but still half expected the RCMP to arrive at my door any second. Clearly I wasn’t cut out for a life of crime, even someone else’s.

The silence was setting me on edge. I turned on the television, took an idle minute to scroll through the channels, and stopped when I saw Dr. Phil excoriate a panel of self-absorbed teenagers, who’d no doubt been selected for that trait, for being self-absorbed. I let them work out their issues while I headed back into the bedroom, where I filled a suitcase with half of the clothes I owned. When I returned to the living room, I saw I’d missed finding out what it would take for one especially sullen girl with dyed black hair to make her appreciate everything her mother did for her.

I remembered I had a beer, and took it to my computer, where I attached my external hard drive and transferred all of the files I’d copied from Lisa’s laptop. I remained there for over half an hour, summarizing in an email to Julia the relevant parts of my Calgary trip. I attached all seven of the emails between Lisa and Anoushka, and pointed out that the first three of Anoushka’s emails were sent from Calgary, while the last appeared to have originated in Ottawa. Before I released the message into the ether, I briefly liberated my phone from its charger to transfer the recording I’d made during my visit to Lisa’s home. Using a free digital audio editor, I extracted the part of the conversation in which Anoushka’s name came up, and tinkered with the effects until both Lisa’s and my voices were clear, if distorted. I then attached the file, all nine megabytes of it, to the message, and closed with a paragraph saying that I was worried Anoushka may not be safe in Ottawa, and that I hoped Julia could trust me with the information I needed to pursue this suspicion.

My phone rang as I hit Send: Matt, asking why I hadn’t replied to his messages; midway through that question, he interrupted himself and started with a second. I cut him off, and told him I’d rather talk to him in person; would he be in his office that afternoon? He hesitated for a second before confirming he would. “Fantastic,” I said before he could continue, and disconnected the call.

I pocketed the phone and laptop and headed for the door. But on a whim, I turned back, opened the laptop again, and loaded some familiar websites. Back in Calgary, Raphael Galiano was providing an update on an investigation into a fire at a gas station: arson, he informed his readers, with an appeal pending. And Harsha Gill had returned to the dating jungle, such as it was, but declined to follow an attractive graduate student home after he started waxing lyrical over how much she reminded him of “that actress – I forget her name – you know the one, she’s in all the Bollywood movies.” The previous week’s offering was similar. There was no mention anywhere of a pen, a car accident, or a stolen wallet.

A fifteen minute drive got me to the corner of East First Avenue and Renfrew Street, home of First Capital Savings. It was lunch hour for people who still had jobs, and the place was packed. I waited patiently, and when a teller called me over, I explained that I’d absentmindedly washed and dried a pair of jeans with my bank card in the back pocket; would it be possible to get a replacement? Not a problem, the man assured me, and tapped out a few commands. A minute later, after scrutinizing my driver’s licence, he handed me the rectangular piece of plastic and had me scribble my name in three separate places. I nodded through his long-winded instructions and advice regarding changing my PIN, anxious to limit the amount of time he spent looking at the file for the one bank account that had been created not by any of the regular staff at the credit union, but by their computer security consultant. When I assured him I understood how to protect my account – stifling a laugh at the absurdity of it all – he instructed me to wait another minute while he reviewed my file. I did, heart thudding.

“You have a lot of money in this account,” he said at last. “Have you considered some longer-term investments?”

I bit back a smile. “I’m paying off the principal on my mortgage,” I explained. “I guess it hasn’t gone through yet. I’ll call the mortgage lender.”

“That’s a good idea,” he said, and I thanked him again. I’d have to look into doing that for real soon. In the meantime, I had control over enough money to get me easily through the next few months, with or without a job. I hurried out of the bank, and waited until I was back in the car before allowing myself a squeal of delight.

Another short drive later, I was back at Matt’s office. He buzzed me in immediately, and all but leapt up as I entered his office.

I thrust a wad of twenties and fifties at him as he rose to greet me. “Seven hundred and forty. Your loan, plus interest. Thanks again.”

He cocked his head at me, took the cash, and pushed a pair of twenties at me. “I didn’t ask you for interest.”

I stuffed my hands in my back pockets. “Not interest, then. Payment for services rendered.”

“I didn’t ask for –”

“Then payment for services about to be rendered.”

He stared at me for a few seconds, and then withdrew his hand. “Come, have a seat.”

I started with the request: I’d drafted an abridged version of the story to tell Matt, one that was longer than the ones I’d told to my father and Mrs. Chandler; but with him as with them, I only wanted to reveal as much as I had to. He interrupted me with questions right away, though, and I figured I owed him answers.

“A search of the accounts at First Capital already bypasses yours,” he said. “Your account doesn’t appear on any official list. Unless someone provides your name and account number, for all intents and purposes the account of Kathleen Kovalevsky doesn’t exist.”

“But it could still be found, right?”

“Right, but –”

“The CRA can find it. Or the law, if they asked.”

“Yes. Kathleen, why are you worried about that? I thought you just needed an account that the person who breached yours wouldn’t be able to access.”

“There have been some new developments. I need you to hide it deeper. I need you put it under a different name. And delete any records that it was ever under mine. But make it so I can still access it, through my card or online.”

He folded his hands in his lap and fixed his gaze on me for several long seconds. “Kathleen, what’s going on?”

My legs were starting to twitch. “Listen, could you please just bury this account? I promise, I’ll tell you everything.”

He hadn’t moved since he’d last spoken. When he did, he was calmer than I was. “I’m about to do something that could lose me my job if it were discovered,” he said slowly. “Possibly worse.”

“Bullshit, Matt, you’re too smart to get caught. Please.”

He frowned, but turned back to his computer.

It took him only a few seconds to find it. “Hold on,” he said, still squinting at the screen. You said you had around five thousand taken from your account. You have over ten times that amount there.”

I looked up, genuinely surprised. “The other half went through? That was fast.” I felt my pulse slow. Another hurdle cleared.

“Over twenty-seven thousand available, and another twenty-seven thousand pending.”

“Oh, so the other half hasn’t gone through yet. Can you approve that transfer? Well, I mean, of course you can. I mean, could you do that before you hide the account? It’s legit, it’s just money from the Calgary account under my na– my Calgary account.”

He folded his hands in his lap and fixed his gaze upon mine, and I felt like a small child in his presence. Petulantly, I gave the impromptu staring contest my all, and felt victorious if immature when he broke first. “Kathleen,” he said quietly, “why do you have an extra fifty thousand dollars?”

“I’m not sure,” I said honestly, and then I forced myself to say the words: “I think for killing someone.”

He threw his head back, turned his palms up. “This isn’t a joke! I’m putting my career on the line trying to help you here. The least you can do is level with me.”

“I am,” I said, and something in my voice kept him in his seat. He tilted his head, listening again. “I told you about the people I’m trying to find. About the woman and children I hit with my car in Calgary. I’ve been looking, and here’s what I’ve learned: the woman’s husband beat her, and ran a legitimate but unprofitable business that served as a front for some sort of human trafficking operation. And the husband knows I know this, or at least he knows I know part of it, and he’s doing everything he can to stop me. He’s tried to bribe me. When that didn’t work, he tried to threaten me and to fuck with my life. And, this week, with my father’s life. I figure he’s killed his family, mostly because that’s the kind of guy he seems to be, but also because otherwise, why is he messing with me, you know?”

Matt nodded. “Go on.”

I took a deep breath. “So, anyway, I’ve learned a lot. I’m close. I couldn’t tell you how to reach this guy, but I know about a whole lot of stuff he’s done, and he knows it. He knows I know he killed his wife and kids. I can’t prove it, yet, but he’s afraid I’ll be able to, eventually. And…and, what it looks like is that he’s bought my silence: if I expose him, an anonymous tip and a cop who’s not a moron are all it will take to prove that I did the killing, and got fifty thousand dollars for it.”

He sat motionless for a few seconds. “You’re in a lot of trouble.”

A laugh escaped from my throat, wild and deranged. “No shit. I was as surprised by the balance in the Calgary account as you are. But I knew that as soon as I acknowledged the existence of that account, it was game over. That money is mine and I can’t claim I didn’t know about it. And” – I’d had an inkling of this part for the past four days, but only voiced it now – “I have no idea what else he’s planted on me.”

He didn’t speak for almost a minute, and I waited him out.

“I’ll approve the transfer and I’ll bury your account. Do you need anything else?”

I exhaled. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”

And I sat there for another few seconds, dizzy with relief, before I saw myself out.

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