The Speed of Mercy, стр. 2

head through the dazzling surface and making its way towards the beach, towards Mal. There might be a canoe, previously hidden in the deep shade cast down by the woods. What moved towards her might be something that had come up from the bottom, something she couldn’t quite see because the sun was in her eyes. It would be the truth coming for her, slipping towards her, a canoe in the shadows. Riding in the canoe would be the lies she’d told her mother about why she flew from California to Nova Scotia, their ancestral home.

Mercy Lake was in the centre of a vast stretch of old-growth Acadian forest owned by the Seabury Estate. The remains of the Seabury family now lived in Florida. Mal had already been down there, interviewing an old woman in a nursing home, a painter named Sarah Windsor. Mal’s mother had thought Mal was interviewing Sarah Windsor about a retrospective of her early paintings of disturbing domestic scenes, for her podcast. Mal had lied about that too. Her mother knew Sarah Windsor. Not well, but they’d served on some prize juries together. In fact, her mother had called and talked to the nursing home staff so Mal could actually get in. Security was tighter these days, people more paranoid. When she got back from Florida she told her mother the old woman wasn’t able to talk. But that wasn’t true. She had managed a few words, a few sentences. Enough for Mal to decide to go to Nova Scotia.

“Mal, rural Nova Scotia wasn’t a place for me, and it certainly isn’t a place for you,” her mother had told her. “It’s the Georgia of the north. Why do you think I left?”

“You say all the time that your inspiration for painting comes from the natural world — from all the stages of your life. Why can’t I find inspiration for my writing and podcast through the natural world of my maternal ancestry?” But it wasn’t a spiritual pilgrimage to the land of her mother’s childhood that Mal had in mind.

Mal’s mother had been quiet for a time and then smiled. It wasn’t surprising she believed Mal. She’d always encouraged her to follow her passions. Be the best version of yourself, Mal hears her mother say. When she was younger, Mal had loved this. But by the time she was in her early twenties, without any sort of “real” career, she blamed her mother. Her father, before he died, said her mother was making up for what she saw as the deficiency in her own upbringing, how Gramma Grant had always said no. Mal’s father had a way of being very direct while always being kind. No judgement. They were poor. Life was hard. You had to be practical. You had to stay on the safe side. Life was dangerous. Her mother wanted Mal to know a different life, her father explained. He was the son of immigrants from Gujarat and shared her mother’s desire to provide a different future for his family, the tricky business of both protecting and encouraging your daughter in a society rife with racial discrimination.

Mal wanted to prove she was more than a thirty-year-old podcaster and obscure short story writer living in her mother’s garage apartment gobbling mango lassi and Doritos. This was not her best self. She had stumbled onto something secret — a real-life crime, a cold case — and she would break it on her podcast. But she needed a smoking gun. She needed evidence.

Her podcast was about mental health, and mostly the people she interviewed talked about how they managed theirs. They told their stories, gave tips on how to navigate depression and anxiety, how to have hope. Until she interviewed Flora, that was. The woman was in her late twenties. She was pale, winter white. Flora had a floral arranging business and talked about therapeutic gardening. It was Flora who had brought up Mercy Lake, in their off-the-record conversation after the interview. The two women found it impossible to avoiding exploring their shared Nova Scotia connections. “Oh, mercy,” Mal had said, when they were talking about the East Coast, like she was a country girl. Flora, hearing that word, mercy, paused, and then dropped her story out of the blue. It was a confession of sorts. Mercy seemed a code word and Flora’s story was sealed inside her, waiting for the right person to call it out of hiding. Mal was that person. Flora’s tone was matter-of-fact but her voice was hushed, and Mal’s unease grew with every detail, her breath quickening. What had happened to Flora when she was fifteen? Flora claimed there was a link between a place called Mercy Lake in Nova Scotia and a group in New York that hid under a cloak of business, billions and blackmail — money and power providing an impenetrable shield for traditions, beliefs and rituals going back hundreds of years. A company called Cineris International. An old family named Jessome, in New York. Mal remembered how Flora’s voice trembled as she spoke, trailed into a whisper. The woman was terrified. What they did to her went way back. There were others, lost in time.

Two days after she spoke with Flora, Mal got a phone call. It was from a private number. She answered anyway. A low male voice. He knew her name. Malmuria, don’t stick your nose where it doesn’t belong. Mal reached in her shorts pocket and pulled out her copy of a 1980 article about a Seabury Summer Barbeque, with a photo of Franklin Seabury and William Sprague, arms around shoulders: Fellows United, read the headline. And their daughters, Stella Sprague, twelve, and Cynthia Seabury, thirteen, holding hands, with bright smiles — Cynthia half a foot taller, teased wild hair, and Stella in her old-fashioned dress with a pixie cut. Mal had made copies from the microfiche at the archives in Halifax before driving out to Mercy Lake. But it had been a mistake