Sunday, December 18th
Hands on his thighs, head bent forward, Victor Lessard was trying to catch his breath and regain his composure. From the depths of the warehouse, he’d had to run twenty metres before reaching the door and bursting outside.
Still panting, he turned away from the yellowish puddle at his feet and straightened up.
Wiping his lips, the detective sergeant took out a pack of cigarettes. The first puff set fire to his throat; the second lit up his lungs; the third calmed him down.
As his face returned to its normal colour, Victor zipped up his leather jacket and, putting his hands in the pockets of his jeans, paced among the junk in the snowy courtyard: an old boat sitting on wooden pallets; the carcasses of eviscerated cars; misshapen, rusting metal parts.
With a little imagination, one might almost have expected to find this fractured, postapocalyptic scene in the backdrop of a picture by Edward Burtynsky.
Worried that someone might be looking for him, Victor glanced toward the warehouse. From where he was standing, he could read the sign over the entrance: METALCORP. In the distance, to his left, he saw the gaunt silhouette of the Décarie Expressway ramp leading to the Champlain Bridge.
For a moment, Victor watched the unending flow of vehicles, hypnotized. Then he walked toward the Lachine Canal. He stepped carefully to prevent snow getting into his black-leather Converse high-tops.
His gaze drifted briefly to the canal’s far bank. Though the district was still largely industrial, residential buildings were sprouting up here and there; but nothing like the disused factories farther east, now converted into high-end condos, that he had visited with Nadja.
Tossing his cigarette butt into the skeleton of a Plymouth Duster, Victor ran his fingers across the stubble on his cheeks. With a shake of his head, he turned and headed back toward the building, limping slightly. That limp was the only visible remnant of the attack that had nearly cost him his life. But neither the passage of time nor the psychotherapy could altogether erase the scars that the King of Flies had left on his soul.
“You’re too sensitive, Lessard. You puke every goddamn time. ”
Victor’s square jaw clenched and his green eyes looked straight into his partner’s. “I just stepped out for a smoke. ”
Jacinthe Taillon responded with a skeptical little smile as she plunged her thick fingers into a bag of Cheetos and crammed a handful into her mouth. “The trick is never to go in on an empty stomach. Do you eat breakfast every morning?”
“There’s orange stuff on your face, Jacinthe. ”
She was in her forties. With her doughy features untouched by makeup, her short-cropped hair, and rolls of flesh visible under her clothes, she was affectionately nicknamed “Tiny” Taillon by her colleagues. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. Direct, unsparing, practical, she was known for bluntness and a resolute refusal to beat around the bush. Ever. “Okay, big guy, let’s go. We haven’t got all day. ”
With that, Jacinthe set her massive body in motion and headed toward the back of the warehouse, crumpling her bag of munchies. Victor rubbed his temples for a moment, took a deep breath, and followed her.
The interior was as chaotic as the courtyard, but it was organized chaos: dirt, debris, metal stacked in layers or contained in wooden crates. Two Forensic Identification technicians were spraying luminol on a stretch of floor, looking for blood spatter. Victor tried to remember the techs’ names, then gave up. Since his return to the Major Crimes Unit, there’d been so much information to absorb that his brain sometimes failed to keep up.
“What’s the latest on Mr. Horowitz?”
Taillon sighed with frustration. “He had a heart scare. He’s in the ICU at Saint-Luc Hospital. ”
“Put yourself in his shoes,” Victor said. “He didn’t expect to find a corpse in his warehouse on a Sunday morning. ”
“Maybe not, but now we’ll have to wait before getting his deposition. And the clock’s ticking. ”
“Anyway, we’ve still got our Jane Doe to deal with. This’ll take as long as it needs to take. ”
“Are you deliberately trying to get on my nerves?”
The cleanliness and elegance of Horowitz’s office contrasted with the rest of the place: lacquered concrete floor, glass-topped desk, leather armchairs under industrial windows, computer, papers, meticulously aligned pens, metal file cabinets, adjacent washroom, Toulouse-Lautrec prints on the walls, small kitchen with sink, microwave, and espresso machine, and a laminated table surrounded by several chairs for mealtimes.
Only the yellow plastic crime-scene tape and the body disturbed the harmony of the space.
For an instant, Victor hoped that by closing his eyes he could erase the dead woman. But when he opened them again, she was still on her back, pallid and naked, at the foot of the table, where he’d first seen her before the nausea overcame him.
A shaft of sunlight coming through the window cast singular patterns on the skin of the corpse, whose posture recalled the twisted forms of Delacroix’s paintings.
Her sphincter muscles had relaxed at the moment of death. Her legs, bent to one side, were bathed in urine and feces. Victor raised his T-shirt over his nose to block out the stench that was pressing at his nostrils.
Jacob Berger turned to him, smiling. Berger had refined traits and a delicate chin. He wore little glasses and his hairstyle was too perfect. “Feeling better, Lessard?”
Both men were nearly six foot three, but the resemblance stopped there. While the detective sergeant’s hard features and athletic physique gave him a threatening appearance, the medical examiner was long and lean, the prototype of an intellectual.
“How can you stand it, Jacob?” Victor hung back, not getting too close to the body.
The dead woman’s rolled-back eyes made him shudder, but he couldn’t look away from the wrinkled arms, the limp, toneless flesh dotted with droplets of blood.
“You get used to it,” Berger said, kneeling beside the victim.
“I don’t think I ever will. ”
Jacinthe rolled her eyes, then noticed the clothes piled in a corner. “Save the touchy-feely stuff for later, girls. Was she killed here?”
“How long ago?”
“I’d say a good forty-eight hours. Probably sometime Thursday night. ”
Victor made a mental note, then hesitated for an instant, trying to find the right words for what he was about to ask of the examiner. Berger had a touchy streak, and Lessard was eager to avoid seeming to micromanage him. “Since we don’t have a purse or ID, I’d like you to be on the lookout for anything that might help identify her — dental work, physical particulars, labels, distinctive garments, details of that sort. ”
“No problem. ”
Maybe, like him, Berger was getting softer as he aged.
“How old would you say she was?”
“In her sixties. I could be wrong. ”
“She left behind an impressive body of work,” Jacinthe said, laughing loudly at her own joke before turning serious. She used a fingernail to pry an orange blob from between her teeth and asked, “Cause of death?”
“She bled out. Something went right through her throat — from back to front, I believe. ”
“Is that the hole?” Jacinthe pointed to a circular wound just above the trachea.
Gently, Berger turned the dead woman’s head and inserted a finger into the opening. The sploosh sound made Victor queasy. He averted his eyes, close to retching. Taillon watched, fascinated, as the examiner’s expert hands moved over the corpse’s throat.
“This is the exit wound. The object used by the killer entered the back of the neck and exited here, severing the carotid artery along the way. The vertebral arteries run through the cervical bones on their way to the brain. Hemorrhaging was massive. She was dead in minutes. ”
“The object used by the killer …” Victor paused, still struggling to hold down the contents of his stomach. “You mean that’s not a bullet wound?”
“I could go into details, but —”
“Forget the details,” Taillon snapped.
“Short answer: no, that is not a bullet wound. ”
“Okay,” Taillon said, “so what was the murder weapon?”
“I’ll know more after the autopsy, but I’d say it was a sharp object propelled by some kind of mechanism. ”
“Mechanism?” Victor asked, intrigued.
Berger looked at him over the rims of his glasses, which wavered in precarious balance on the bridge of his nose. “It took considerable velocity to cause a wound like this. More than human strength alone could generate. ”
Their gazes met for an instant.
“There’s something else,” Berger said.
“Oh, yeah?” the big woman growled.
The examiner ran his finger along two cuts, one above the sternum and the other beneath the chin, near the throat. Each wound had two distinct entry points.
“I don’t know what made these punctures, but they’re deep. ”
The image stayed with Victor wherever he looked: the dead woman’s head and frizzy grey hair lying in a red lake, a Mona Lisa half smile clinging to her lips as though she’d been at peace when she was struck down.
“There are abrasions on the wrists and neck. ”
“Caused by what?” Jacinthe asked.
“On the wrists, could be handcuffs. ”
“And the neck?”
“It looks like the murderer made her wear something extremely tight and heavy. ”
“A dog collar?” Victor suggested.
“That,” Berger answered, “would be one very large dog collar. ”
Why settle for Scandinavian crime writers when we have in our midst a masterful author who can justly be celebrated as the new star of Quebec crime fiction?
Never Forget is a triumph.
With its breakneck pace and flawless storytelling, this is Michaud’s best novel. A thriller to remember!
Novelist Martin Michaud has produced a thriller that’s solid, fast-moving, intelligent, and enlivened by moments of sharp humour and political insight.
This chilling Quebec-set thriller opens with a grisly murder worthy of a Saw movie. .. A fine crime novel featuring a cast of well-delineated characters and a plot that demands the reader's undivided attention.
Readers will be blown away by the imaginative power of this finely-wrought, action-packed thriller. Michaud’s skilled and colourful way with words reveals an excellent storyteller … and a master of suspense.
Never Forget is a crackerjack read. Michaud artfully constructs the world of the Montreal police and a broad cast of characters while keeping his eye steady on ways to ratchet up the tension at every turn.
Michaud goes back to the events of the seventies in Montreal when the FLQ was kidnapping cabinet ministers and the revelation was made public that the CIA had conducted mind-control experiments in Montreal hospitals. Michaud is at his best recalling those fraught times through the cooler lens of our present day. It’s great to see Canadian history used to such good effect in a story that resonates as well today as when it happened.
— Margaret Cannon
[An] immersive thriller full of darkness, loathing, and vengeance.
Martin Michaud is a master at twisty storytelling and compelling atmosphere. This kept me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. I can't wait to read Lessard's next case!
Never Forget will leave you bloodless, and I mean that in the nicest possible way.
French Canadian author Michaud makes his English-language debut with this raucous crime thriller.