MISSING PERSON

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Chapter 36

We passed a lazy weekend, the two of us, heading out for a few walks around the neighbourhood. “They said I should exercise,” my father had mentioned in passing. “They asked me what kind of exercise I did. I said, does walking count? They said, that depends, how much did I do? I said, none, unless you count to and from the car, to and from my desk. They said, in that case, a brisk walk once a day is a start.”

I’d been planning to keep looking – or, more accurately, I knew I would keep looking – for Anoushka and the nameless woman and the missing children, but nothing emerged as an obvious next step. I’d toyed with the idea of asking Matt to see if he could find an Ottawa bank account under Anoushka’s name; but I’d already asked so much of him, and I knew that with professional fraudsters and identity thieves in the picture, a bank account proved little.

So I continued cooking for my father and myself, selecting the dishes that required the most chopping and dicing and mincing. On Monday, my father, whom I at first assumed was misreading my efforts, offered to take over the meal preparation; when I demurred, he insisted. With his latest paper submitted and nothing pending, he needed something to fill his time, too.

Restless, I turned to my computer, and after an hour or so of clicking on links, convinced myself I wasn’t missing anything that required my knowledge or participation. Harsha’s latest column told of a blind date, arranged by her parents, with an Indian man who had two daughters older than her – a fact she’d only learned midway through an elaborate meal. I found myself cringing at all the intended places, even as I knew that not a word of it was true. I wondered, not for the first time, about her parents; did they know how she made a living? Did they even speak to her? I thought of how much my father anchored me, how much of my life was shaped by what I felt – correctly or not – was a responsibility not to disappoint him.

An electronic jangle startled me from this thought, and I nearly fell off the bed before I realized what it was. I’d left my phone on, but it felt like a lifetime ago that I’d taken any calls. I grabbed the device, and saw that the call was coming from a blocked number. I took a deep breath and answered.

“Good morning, Kathleen.”

“Afternoon,” I corrected, surprised by the steadiness of my voice. “But I appreciate the thought. What can I do for you today, Manny?”

He chuckled. “Nothing,” he said. “That’s what I called to talk to you about. I’ve called to terminate our working relationship. It’s nothing personal; I just won’t be needing your services anymore. I see you’ve collected your payment. Pleasure doing business with you; have a nice day.”

I had set up an app to record all my calls, and I didn’t hesitate to take the bait. “I never got the contract,” I said. “Maybe you could send it again?”

He gave another quiet laugh. “It was an oral contract. We agreed not to put anything in writing. But the transactions speak for themselves, if it ever comes to that. I hope it doesn’t, for your sake as much as mine.”

“Humour me,” I said. I tilted the mouthpiece of the phone away from my face and forced a few deep, even breaths. “You’d think this would be the sort of thing I’d remember, but I’m pretty absentminded. What was it you paid me to do again?”

“You’re not as clever as you think,” he snapped. “Didn’t the professor ever teach you never to look a gift horse in the mouth? You have a chance walk away from this ahead. You do not want to fuck this up.”

I gripped the phone, mute.

“And give my best to your father. I never meant to cause him any harm. Distress, certainly, but not harm. Not this time, anyway.” He chuckled again. “If you want, I can talk to him directly.”

“No,” I said, deflated, “that won’t be necessary.”

“Have a nice day,” he sang, and the line went silent.

I didn’t expect him to call back. I continued to check my email compulsively, hoping Julia had replied, and late that afternoon she did: an email with an attachment. I sat upright as I read:

From: Julia Clark [[email protected]]
Subject: Re: Anoushka

Dear Kathleen,

Thank you for your last email and for the voice recording, as well as for the instructions on how to listen to it – as you know, I am not good with computers.

What you told me made me more concerned, so I called the Ottawa police and asked them to check the address I have for Anoushka. I told them only that I was a worried friend who had not heard from her in a while.

The police were very helpful and did not dismiss my concerns, and they sent me a full report on their findings. I have scanned and attached it for you. I still have a lot of questions, but as you can see, it answers the important one: Anoushka and her children are living at the Ottawa address. Anoushka’s husband does not live with them.

If you are who you say you are, this report should put your mind at ease. As you can see, I have blacked out the address. Please do not ask me for it. I still do not know you.

Julia

PS. I still have not spoken to her directly. I do not have her phone number; she has mine, but I do not expect her to call me. She never initiated any contact during the time I knew her in Calgary.

I studied the message for a few seconds before double-clicking on the attachment. It was a pdf, offset slightly: apparently Julia had printed off a copy, censored the identifying information, and scanned the result. The Ottawa Regional Police crest was centred at the top of the page, and I leaned closer to the screen to see if I could identify any telltale signs of forgery. A few seconds into this exercise, I gave up: I didn’t even know what I was looking for.

At 1840 hours on xxxxxxxxxxx, I, Officer Michael O’Connor #864, was dispatched to xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, Ottawa, home of Anoushka Thomas, DOB xxxxxxxx. Ms. Thomas’ friend, Julia Clark of Calgary, AB, was concerned that she had not heard from her friend in several days and asked that we send an officer to visit.

I arrived at the house at 1850 hours. I knocked on the front door and called out “Police officer.” A woman who identified herself as Anoushka Thomas opened the door. I explained the nature of my call. Ms. Thomas seemed confused, and then apologetic at having wasted the department’s time. She said she had been busy and had forgotten to return Ms. Clark’s phone calls, but that she would phone her later that evening.

I asked to look around the house. Ms. Thomas led me into the den, where two children were playing. Ms. Thomas identified the children as Gary (DOB xxxxxxxx) and Daniel (xxxxxxxx). Both children as well as Ms. Thomas appeared to be in good health. I asked Ms. Thomas if anyone else lived at the residence. Ms. Thomas replied that she and her husband were separated and that only she and the children lived there.

I departed xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx at 1903 hours. No further action was taken.

I read the report again, and then returned to Julia’s message.

…she said she had been busy and had forgotten to return Ms. Clark’s phone calls…

…I do not have her phone number; she has mine…

I slammed the computer shut. Someone was lying. But I’d known that much all along, for all the good it had done me.

Dinner that evening was a stir fry over rice, one my father’s standards; it wasn’t on the approved list, but a single unhealthy supper wouldn’t kill him, and I was relieved to be able to eat something that contained familiar doses of salt and oil. But fifteen minutes into the meal, I found my plate empty with no memory of having eaten a thing. My thoughts were so disconnected from the present that I didn’t even bother to try to come up with anything to talk about; my father, for his part, volunteered a few questions about my day and comments about his work before quietly giving up trying to keep the momentum on his own. I felt vaguely guilty, but not enough to do anything about it. My father knew what it was like to be consumed by a problem; I’d never taken his own preoccupations personally, and both of us knew better than for me try to fight mine. So I gave in, clearing the table and loading the dishwasher as I mulled over the day’s events. Manny’s phone call, while chilling, hadn’t surprised me; but I kept turning Julia’s message and the police report over in my mind.

I returned to my room, grabbed my phone, and called Matt. To my simultaneous relief and frustration, his voicemail picked up, and I outlined what I assured him was a final favour – “favour, or work, if you want,” I said, babbling in the way people do when talking to machines. I gave him details, spelling names and addresses, and asked him to find out what he could as soon as possible and to call me back as soon as he had any information.

I hung up and stared at the phone. I grabbed my father’s newspaper and read it front to back, just to give myself something to do, lingering over articles about businesses and sports teams I’d never heard of and didn’t care about. Then I stared at nothing for a few more minutes, before I gave up and went to bed.

At half past eleven, while I was deep in sleep, my phone startled me for the second time that day; before I could even register what I was doing, I grabbed it and switched it on.

“Hey, Kathleen.” His voice was tired, and gentle. “Is it too late? Did I wake you?”

“No. I mean yes. I mean, you woke me, but it’s not too late. Thanks for calling.” I sat up, rubbed my eyes, and fumbled for the lamp switch. I squinted as my eyes adjusted, but I didn’t close them. I needed to be alert for this.

“You’re welcome,” he said, and I winced at the lack of pretense; I hadn’t heard the standard substitute for my pleasure or not a problem in years. “Listen, I was able to find a lot. You’re lucky: the woman has an account with BMO, and I’ve worked with them, so I was able to pull complete records. The man, too, he’s with CIBC, but…well, I’ll get to that. By the way, you should write this down, because I’m not putting anything in writing. What do you want first?”

“Give me what you have on Anoushka.” I was sitting up now, my laptop groaning to life.

“Okay, here’s what I have: there’s an Anoushka Thomas with a BMO chequing account in Calgary, on 32 St NE.”

I entered the address into a text file. “Is it active?”

“I’m getting to that. Last transaction was two days ago, at an ATM at 250 Greenbank Road, Ottawa. There are several withdrawals from that machine over the past two months or so.”

“250 Greenbank Road, Ottawa,” I repeated, typing. “Okay. Do you have an address for her? You have access to those records, right?”

“Yes. 280 Abbotsford Crescent.”

I cursed under my breath. “That’s in Calgary, where they used to live.”

“I’ll take your word for it that she used to live there, but yes, it’s in Calgary.”

“No address in Ottawa?”

“No. But there are a bunch of other transactions, do you want those?”

“Yes, of course.”

“All right. Two automatic withdrawals, one on the first of May and one on the first of June, each in the amount of fourteen hundred dollars, to what looks to be a property management company.” He gave me the name, and I entered it into the text file as well. “There was a cheque written in April for that same amount. It looks to be last month’s rent.”

“Right.”

“More monthly payments: car insurance, and phone and internet. And a few hundred to a community centre, for children’s swimming lessons. A number of debit payments, most to a grocery store in the same plaza on Greenbank.”

I closed my eyes. “She’s living in Ottawa.”

“Looks like it.”

“Hold on. How much money is in the account?”

“A little over four thousand.”

“And how long has this account existed?”

“Since mid-April.”

I nodded to myself. She’d gotten away. Manny Thomas wouldn’t allow his wife to have her own account while she was married to him; that’s why she’d stolen Harsha Gill’s identity, to build up the funds she needed to leave him. But – the memory surfaced, liquid and murky – she, or someone else, had turned all that money, along with control over the bank account, over to the real Harsha Gill.

“Where did it come from?”

“What, the account? I told you, a BMO branch in Calgary –”

“No. The money. Were there any deposits to the account since it was opened?”

“Yeah. And here’s the part I don’t understand. Maybe you can help me.”

I waited.

“There were three deposits, one per month, of six thousand dollars apiece, transferred electronically from a CIBC account registered to one M. Thomas, at 280 Abbotsford Crescent, Calgary.”

The room swam in front of me. “What the –”

“That’s the husband, right?”

“Hold on. Wait. Wait. They’re professional identity thieves. It could be someone else.” Even as I said the words I knew them to be absurd; but this new information inhabited a universe so disconnected from the one that made sense that it seemed any other explanation would be easier to assimilate. “How long has that account existed?”

“Nine years. It’s got biweekly deposits, just under four thousand each, from a company by the name of Heartland of Alberta. I tried to look up their records, but they’re with one of the local credit unions, and I’ve never done any work for them, so I don’t have access.” He didn’t offer to pull any strings.

I sat upright, tangled in blankets, laptop beside me, wide awake. “That’s him, then.”

“It looks like he’s paying her child support, or alimony.”

“Yeah.”

“This is the guy who’s been messing with you, trying to get you to stop looking for her, right? Because you thought he’d killed her.”

“Yeah.” It was coming, clearly and irrevocably, into focus. I wanted him to stop talking, and I wanted to burrow under my blankets forever, and I wanted to fly to Ottawa. But more than anything, I wanted never to have been involved in any of this at all.

“But she’s alive, and he’s paying her. And she has the children with her.”

“Yeah.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“No,” I said slowly, “it doesn’t.”

But it did.

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