If you want to read the rest of the series, here are the links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, Part 16, Part 17, Part 18, Part 19, Part 20, Part 21, Part 22, Part 23, Part 24, Part 25, and Part 26.
Highway 400 flows out of Toronto, meandering northwards until it peters out soon after Parry Sound. Until then, it curves its way through the history of the province, rocketing and reversing over the timeline with a violence that belies its long hills and slow-trending landscape.
Geoffrey waited until he was certain the lane wasn't going to transform into an off-ramp before allowing himself a glance at Pepper. She was staring out the window, eyes obscured by large round sunglasses. Her makeup hid the lingering bruises well.
Car dealerships and light industrial businesses rolled past, while most of the road signs concerned themselves with instructions on how to get to the Vaughan Mills mega-mall. The twisted rails of a roller coaster peaked in the distance, announcing they were close to the Canada's Wonderland amusement park. The buildings got bigger, while the highway widened to eight lanes. Geoffrey spotted a gas station, and winced a little at the listed prices. The car-centric future promised by this land of the giants was already turning to myth.
"Are you sure the new clothes are okay?" said Geoffrey. He'd gone to the safe house Pepper had been living in, tried to get things ready for her for when she left hospital. Even as a career spook, he was shocked by how few personal effects she'd had. All of her clothes were leftover requisitions from old jobs. No furniture that wasn't owned by the agency, no books, no photographs. That had bothered him. Everyone had some photographs.
"They're fine." Pepper stretched, gasping when her still-injured leg twinged. "Thank you. You did a great procurement job."
The highway narrowed and the big box stores ended as they reached the green belt. Most of the cars disappeared as the suburbs transformed into countryside proper. The exit signs announced towns which had all been created in the first half of the nineteenth century, settled by British army officers granted free land and a pension during a lull in the Empire's maintenance.
"Deer," said Pepper as they passed a stubbled corn field.
Geoffrey looked despite himself, but they'd already driven past. "Funny it's so close to the road this far south."
"Yeah. Hard winter."
Geoffrey pulled off at the last service centre before Barrie, refilling the gas tank and buying coffees at the Tim Horton's. Pepper held her cup as if she wasn't entirely aware it was there, only sipping at it when Geoffrey asked her if he'd ordered it right. He put her cup in the passenger-side holder for her before she worked her way back into the car. She would let him help her with things, but not herself. He knew that from when they'd both been in the field together, so he didn't ask.
He put the keys in the ignition and hesitated. "I really am sorry about Sheila," he said. "I was the senior staff there. I should have —"
"You didn't have a chance to co-ordinate," said Pepper, with the same level of passion someone would use for discussing a pizza order mix-up. "The only thing I'd be worried about is getting back at the assholes that did it, and you took care of that right away."
She gave him a hard look. It made Geoffrey want to leave the car, but at the same time he was glad for it, because it meant she hadn't completely turned off.
"But they are dead?" she said.
"Head shots, all three of them," said Geoffrey. He'd already answered this several times. "The two hired hands didn't have enough cranium left to survive, and DeBussy was between the eyes."
"Good," said Pepper.
He started the car and got back on the highway.
There were more light industrial businesses lining the road again, but the focus was different. Boat trailers. Jet skis. Services to winterise cottages.
They crested another big hill, and the road bent left, to the west. The city of Barrie lay in the lowland on either side of the highway. Geoffrey directed the car through it, noticing all the signs about new condo developments.
The highway and the city followed the curve of Lake Simcoe together, until Highway 400 left Barrie behind and continued north. Geoffrey took the exit by Waubaushene and drove west on County Road 12 towards Victoria Harbour.
"And the boat's just sitting there?" said Pepper.
"My brother said it was supposed to be, and Todd had someone on his staff confirm it," said Geoffrey.
"That's your contact. Todd."
He couldn't tell if she was asking or confirming. "You've met him," he said. "He's the one we had to go in and retrieve when we were in Sarajevo. That's why he's been okay with me calling in all these favours at once."
"Todd." Pepper startled so abruptly Geoffrey thought something new had happened to her leg. "You mean Branko? Branko's really a Todd?"
"Yeah," said Geoffrey, slowing to check if the side road they were approaching was the right turnoff for the marina. "Sorry, I thought you knew his real name."
"He didn't look like a Todd."
"His mother's Croatian and his dad is Scots Canadian or something," said Geoffrey. "But yeah, he's a Todd." He found the right road and turned onto it.
"He told you all that?"
"We went to school together," said Geoffrey. "He's one of the people who got me into the business." He slowed the car down, looking for the parking lot entrance. "He's gone legit now, strictly management stuff. Sort of like what I was doing."
"Legit like RCMP, or CSIS..."
"Well, not that legit." Geoffrey turned into the lot and found an empty parking spot. "Legit enough the Minister of Defence knows the acronym of his outfit, anyhow." He turned off the engine. "There's a pay phone by the pier. Last chance to say good-bye to someone before we leave."
"There's no-one to call," said Pepper. She'd said the same thing during her entire stay in the hospital; Geoffrey had been her only visitor.
"Okay then. Let's do this," said Geoffrey, and pressed the button to open the trunk.