After hanging up, I lay in bed for an hour, nerves jangling, before opening my computer again; and before I could talk myself out of it, I purchased the plane ticket and booked the hotel. Wednesday, not Tuesday. An extra day wouldn’t make a difference, not after this long; and at the very least, I owed my father the day.
I was out of bed before seven, alert but not rested, and left a message with the security company I’d deployed ten long days earlier, ordering a tail on my father for all of Wednesday and Thursday, which I’d renew if I needed to. That would set me back at least a few hundred dollars, and possibly well into the thousands, but I submitted my credit card number as though I’d be paying it in Monopoly money. I felt an odd alienation from the fifty-odd thousand dollars in my buried account – one I suspected, and feared, would dissolve if I spent it on anything with tangible effects. If I burned through the money and ended up with nothing to show for it, I could pretend that it and everything connected to it had never existed.
Downstairs, I assembled another soup, and left it simmering on the stove as I cleaned. At nine, my father was still in bed; I left a note at the table while I headed next door. Mrs. Chandler answered the door immediately, and inquired about my father; when I told her he was doing well, she gave a curt nod, more satisfied than pleased. “He could probably still use some company, though, tomorrow,” I said, “whether he’ll admit it or not.”
She raised her eyebrows. “You going back home?”
“Not home. Ottawa.”
“What’s in Ottawa?”
“I’m not sure exactly,” I admitted. “But I think the people I ran into in Calgary are there. At least, that’s what I’m hearing, from a few sources, so I’m assuming it’s true, but there are parts I don’t understand.”
She stood in the doorway, head tilted, creases around her eyes.
“Everyone says they’re okay, but no one except…no one seems to know the whole story. So I want to see for myself. They’re in a new city, they had some trouble before they arrived, and they don’t have a nosy neighbour to force her way in and see for herself what’s going on.”
She smiled at this. “I’ll look after him. And you look after yourself.”
The shower was running when I returned. I transferred the soup to the back burner, and busied myself preparing a breakfast of scrambled eggs, fruit, yogurt, and granola. I was sliding the eggs onto two plates when my father shuffled in, appraised the scene, and smiled. We ate in silence, and when he stood to clear the table, I told him.
I hadn’t rehearsed this part. I hadn’t sat down and figured out what I needed to include and what I could leave out without eliciting questions: an oversight magnified with every word I spoke. I stumbled as I tried to piece together the abridged story, looking to my father for prompts. But he listened without reacting, without trying to help me over the difficult parts. And when I finished, he didn’t respond for a minute.
He held up a finger: wait. I did, pacing my breaths. “You’ve thought about this?” he asked at last.
“I’ve thought about nothing else, for weeks,” I answered.
“And you know what you’re going to find?”
“I have a pretty good idea.”
“You’ll be safe?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I’ll be safe. No one ever wanted to hurt me; they just were willing to, if that was the only way they could keep their secrets. But now…now I know enough that hurting me would hurt them as well.”
“This doesn’t sound good, Kathleen. Why don’t you go to the police?”
“I can’t prove anything. Not even close. I don’t even know what I’d tell them.”
“Okay.” He looked down, seemed to be considering this. “You may be wrong,” he said. “Are you prepared for that, for whatever you find?”
“I need to know what happened.”
He stared straight ahead, silent. I’d purchased the tickets, sicced a neighbour and a professional on my father, and packed a bag, and yet waited, motionless, for his blessing. The past twenty-nine years distilled into this half-minute: me doing as I pleased while waiting for my father’s approval.
“Ketzel,” he said at last. “I’ve never told you not to do something you needed to do.”