[previous chapter] [start from the beginning] For a girl who’d been raised in a leafy Rosemère neighbourhood, Laval-des-Rapides was not a fun place. Not even if the girl in question was a bit of a social anthropologist, as Rosie fancied herself to be. It didn’t have any of the enormous box stores or glitzy shopping malls Montrealers drove up north for, and it also didn’t have any of the famous hookup spots that attracted a different kind of clientele, and it didn’t have any pleasant nature park either unless you counted the river banks, which at that level were on the reedy side and only gave you a view of equally unpretty Cartierville on the other side. What Laval-des-Rapides had, mind you, was dancing bars, and not the nice ones either.
Anyway, unless you were very keen on working-poor aesthetics, by which I mean small houses, non-descript apartment complexes and dirty fast-food joints, Laval-des-Rapides didn’t have much to offer except a way to get from the northern tip of the Montreal island to the aforementioned party spots for your anonymous Saturday night whoop-dee-doo.
Most people didn’t really go into Laval-des-Rapides, of course. They stayed on the Autoroute des Laurentides on their way to someplace else, without giving a second thought to the vaguely dingy houses on either side. Not that you could see them much, hidden as they were behind the sound-proof walls. But you know what I mean.
I was used to that spot. I grew up there, not far from where the sound-proof wall is, actually. It didn’t exist back then, and we rode our bikes to Chomedey and back, going to the Récréathèque to beat up some guys from a different group, and be home before the street lights came on. It was great, back then. My parents were not rich; my dad worked as an electrician for most of his life, until he got a massive heart attack that left him unable to work at 47 years old. My mom had to go out and work at the Dairy Queen to keep us afloat. They made it work, and raised me well. Or so I like to think.
It was Rose’s job to know about those dingy houses in Laval-des-Rapides and the plans that were hatched there. The tips she was following on this investigation for the organized crimes branch involved a rash of break-and-enters and other petty crimes in the area near the Pont-Viau, which appeared to connect to one of those guys the news reports always described as being “known to police”. He was young, wasn’t regularly employed, yet somehow he was driving an expensive car, and he moved a lot. Currently he was living in a basement apartment on Tourangeau Street West that was small, faintly dank, and certainly not fancy. But he kept it clean and quiet enough for the landlord, who didn’t need to know anything more about his tenant’s activities.
In many ways, details about him didn’t matter. He had a name, and that was useful to the cops, to some extent. It was easier to tell these lowlifes apart if you knew their names, since otherwise they all looked and sounded the same. Well, OK. They didn’t all look the same; some were black, some were Asian, a few were white, and some were hard to pin down, racially speaking. But for all that they all kinda looked the same anyway. They all had shifty eyes, they all dressed in expensive jeans and muscle shirts, they all had more tattoos than IQ points, and they all had a chip on their shoulders the size of, well, the size of the patch of turf they controlled.
This particular suspect Rose Lieberman was after was my boss, Abdul Bédard-Lellouche (hilarious side note: in French “le louche” means “the suspicious one”, the fun we had with that one, until it was no longer funny at all…). His father was Algerian and his mother a Québécoise woman originally from Rimouski on the St. Lawrence River, three hours east of Quebec City, who met this irresistibly charming immigrant while studying for her degree in social services at Université du Québec à Montréal. Though they never married, they started living together when she found out she was pregnant about four months before finishing her degree. She had to turn down job offers because he thought she should look after the baby herself, and while Abdul’s father was a good student, he was still a year and half away from finishing his degree in computer sciences. They lived in a small one-bedroom apartment on Berri St., scraping by with money from his student grant and the savings she had from six summers working as a camp counsellor back home.
Abul’s file said his father disappeared in 2004, when Abdul was seven. By this point he’d finished his degree but was unable to find a job he liked. He went from one part-time job to another for a few years and one day just didn’t come home from work. Nobody knew where he went, but everyone suspected him of having returned to Algeria and his “real” wife and children. That was, at any rate, the opinion expressed by his Algerian friends from university, and it would sure explain why he never took Abdul and his Québécoise mother on his trips back home. Abdul’s mother resisted pressure from her own mother to hire a private investigator to track him down. I think in a way she preferred not knowing the truth. It would have hurt her too much, mostly in her pride. She had been played like a fool and made to support a man who never intended to return the favour.
With a son to raise she had to find work, and quickly, too. Since she had no actual experience as a social worker she had trouble finding anything in that field, because everyone wondered why she chose to turn down job offers earlier that she’d give her right arm to get now. Her story did not inspire a great deal of confidence in potential employers, who saw in her eyes a well-meaning but troublingly naïve woman who would likely have a fairly high absenteeism rate because face it, single moms always did. And while nobody mentioned that issue out loud, for fear of being accused of discriminating against her, she kept being turned down by one employer after another and after a while the stench of failure was on her like cheap on a Wal-Mart bathing suit.
She did eventually find a full-time job selling shoes at the big Aldo store in Carrefour Laval, so off they went to live in the province’s third largest city. She never even considered returning home to Rimouski; she knew this was not a place for a woman alone with a mixed-race son to live. She didn’t want Abdul to be a topic of small-town gossip, and she wanted to stay in an area where not everyone was white so he would grow up not feeling so bizarre.
Abdul did OK in school but he often fell in with the wrong crowd. His mother did her best but with her job and no support network Abdul was more often than not left in the care of strangers. His mother dropped him off to school at 8:30 am on her way to work and picked him up from the nearby after-school program as soon as she could get there from work, usually around 6:30 pm. They’d go straight to Burger King for dinner then home to watch TV. They didn’t have enough money to travel or own their own house or anything, but on weekends they spent time together playing urban-jungle explorers, getting to know a particular neighbourhood and writing field notes about everything they found.
He didn’t know it at the time, of course, but that game his mother liked to play with him on weekends proved invaluable when he fell in with the really wrong crowd. There was nothing he didn’t know about the streets of Laval.