[previous chapter] [start from the beginning] Nathalie Toussignant didn’t read the papers, much. She watched the news on television at six, while she helped the kids tidy up their room, but it was out of a sense of duty, not because she was very interested. She figured as a good citizen she should at least have some idea what was going on in the world around her. She didn’t have huge expectations about the media, she didn’t think watching the news once a day would turn her into a professional talking-head or anything, but she did believe journalists ought to give her one little bit of useful information once a day.

Fat chance.

The story of Sandra Walberg’s surprising death in a nursing home in Laval didn’t make the evening news on television. It didn’t make the big newspapers either. Which was just as well for me, temporarily, because it definitely contained information that would prove very relevant to Nathalie. But all it amounted to, at first, was a small mention in the local English-speaking paper, the Laval News, and she sure didn’t read that. Not just because it was in English and she didn’t read that language; mostly because she never read newspapers, period.

But some of Marc’s partners at work did, including a few who made a point of checking out the local dailies and weeklies. One of them had noticed the story of Sandra Walberg because it had happened at the nursing home that was around the corner from his house, and also because the story mentioned that there had been rather a few nursing-home deaths in the area lately. Nothing too worrisome, the story implied, but kind of puzzling. And the journalist, who had some background in health research, understood it couldn’t just have been the flu because A) it wasn’t flu season and B) the deceased had not shown any signs of illness before their deaths. It was also weird that the bodies had all been discovered by the morning staff, and that they all appeared to have died in their sleep. This normally didn’t happen very often in nursing homes, where people died at all kinds of hours and in all kinds of situations, not just in bed peacefully.

“So anyway, Marc,” the cop had joked to Nathalie’s partner as he threw the newspaper in his face, “since you’re heavily into suicide prevention, I thought you might find this interesting. All those old folks dying in their sleep – doesn’t that sound like suicide to you?”

Ordinarily Mark wouldn’t have paid attention to this kind of clowning around, since cops had a well-deserved reputation for being fond of gallows humour, and he’d learned through long experience that the best way to make sure not too much of it was directed your way was to try, as much as possible, to ignore it when it did come. But this was different. I mean, given what had happened to Nathalie’s parents, his ears perked up. He’d never considered the possibility that his in-laws might have been suicidal. But holy shit, was that what had happened to them?

****

Rose was in her car, watching my apartment building when her phone rang. It was her mom.

“What old-folks home did you say your Jean visited this week?”

Rose had a look at her notebook. “Villa des Peupliers, why?”

“Well, I’m just reading the Laval News and they say a lady just died there. Apparently she hadn’t been sick or anything…”

Rose was starting to think maybe her mother was pushing the Sherlock Holmes thing a bit far. People died all the time in nursing homes, right? It’s a place for old people and as we all know, old people die more often than young ones.

“Uh, OK, and?”

“Oh, I get it, now you think your old mom is too keen on making your suspect into a bad guy, just to help move your career along. Well, maybe I am. But here’s the thing: The article goes on to say there have been a few deaths in Chomedey nursing homes recently that involve people who were old, yes, but otherwise not in failing health. Here, let me read you a quote,” she said, to the sound of a newspaper being folded in two. “While nobody wants to talk about these issues openly, there are at least three nurses who expressed concerns that we might be facing a rise in the suicide rate among elderly residents who may sometimes feel pressured by their families or society in general to remove themselves from the system and help free up scarce health care resources for the benefit of younger folks. Those nurses, who spoke to Laval News on the condition their names not be used, tend to work in several area nursing homes on rotating shifts and they say they noticed an increase in the number of older people who seem vulnerable to this sort of pressure, either from members of their family or sometimes even by medical staff. The media relations departments in all the nursing homes contacted for this story declined to comment on this aspect.”

Rose was not exactly sure where her mother was going. “Yeah, Mom, OK, so a few people are dying that maybe didn’t show signs of imminent death. Maybe some of them killed themselves, who knows? And even if that’s the case, so what? Why should I stop people from ending their lives? I don’t like suicide myself; I think it displeases God, and I know it scares you a lot, Mom, but you do realize a lot of people in this province feel very differently about this than we do, right? It’s not really my concern to try and prevent those suicides that don’t endanger anyone else…”

There was silence on the line for a few seconds, then a deep sigh. “Well. Call me crazy if you like, but my gut is telling me there’s something wrong with those deaths and your suspect buddy is connected with them. Can you not check whether he was there when the other deaths happened in the other nursing homes?”

Rose rolled her eyes. “Will it help you sleep better at night if I do? It won’t necessarily be easy, you know. I mean, I suppose it’s possible to go back and get records from the nursing homes of when and where that particular guy showed up to do his research work, but you need a reason. You can’t just walk up to the desk and ask to see records. Certainly not without raising a few eyebrows and getting noticed. And I’m still investigating this fellow for possible gang connections, remember? Getting noticed is the last thing I need!”

Ruth Lieberman was a stubborn woman, but she also had a keen mind and she immediately saw the problem with her original suggestion. “Yes, I see, dear. Well, OK then. But how about we keep an eye on where he’s going next and see if someone doesn’t turn up dead there the next day?”

Rose laughed. “Have I ever told you what a great cop you’d make?”

[next chapter]