Epidemic: an excerpt

In honour of the pre-release of Epidemic: An A’lle Chronicles Mystery (Book 2), releasing on April 15, I am posting the first three chapters below. Epidemic is an alternate history set in Lower Canada in the early 1900s and featuring Constance A’lle, the first alien investigator. Barnes & Noble / iTunes | Kobo | Amazon.com | Amazon.ca 



The noise level on the platform of Montreal’s Bonaventure Rail Station threatened Constance A’lle’s hard-won calm. Between the steam locomotive’s deep-throated rumble, the hissing of the escaping steam and the excited chatter of the new arrivals, she could barely think.

She stood against the wall of the station in the meager shade, her arms crossed over her chest, out of the way of the passengers emerging from the train. Her summer uniform consisted of a plain, short-sleeved gray cotton shirt and navy cotton trousers with the gray stripe, but still her skin prickled in reaction to what was for the humans an unusually cool April day, but the beginning of the killing heat for her and every A’lle on Earth.

Most of the people who passed by her wore jackets and gloves, while Constance felt the slow build-up of heat within her. By July, she would have to carry a water bottle with her wherever she went, not only to drink from, but to use with a kerchief to cool her face and nape.

Until a few years ago, the female constables had to wear skirts, stockings and heels. Very impractical for chasing anyone or climbing on and off a bicycle, but so much cooler in the summer…

She tried to watch all the cars at the same time and fretted when she didn’t see her sister. Mother had written that Gemma would arrive on today’s train from St. Vincent, although Constance could not understand why Father and Mother had agreed to Gemma’s insane request. They knew the danger the A’lle faced in Montreal. How could they allow Gemma to come? Constance would be too busy with the investigation to keep a proper eye on her sister. She would not be able to guarantee Gemma’s safety.

She ignored the curious looks she got, having grown up with them. She was A’lle, after all. There were so few A’lle on this world that they stood out wherever they went, even in a city as large as Montreal.

She recognized a few faces from among the disembarking passengers and nodded in acknowledgment. The women nodded coolly and the men touched their hat brims, but none stopped to talk to her. They were from St. Vincent, where she and her family were the only A’lle. They had all seen her at one point or another.

Surely someone would have called the constabulary to let her know if Gemma was not coming?

A man passed by, coughing into a handkerchief and looking a little feverish. The woman with him held his arm, supporting him.

As the crowd thinned, Constance’s anxiety grew. Father had believed the train to be safe, but she knew better. Just a few short months ago, she herself had been trapped between two cars by a ruffian who threatened her and her family if she did not follow his instructions. He had eventually been killed in a pursuit in Backli’s Ford, but not before her older sister Prudence almost died.


Constance turned quickly toward the voice of her sister, a smile breaking over her face.

“Gemma!” In two quick strides, she was at her sister’s side and hugging her. Except for the twins, who were not full grown, Gemma was the shortest of the six sisters, but still taller than most human women.

“Good trip?” Constance asked.

“Yes!” said Gemma, disentangling herself from her sister. She carried a string-wrapped parcel that she was careful to hold away from the hurrying passersby. “I did not know the train moved so fast!”

Constance laughed at her sister’s enthusiasm, remembering how she had felt on her first trip by train. Yes, it had seemed to move impossibly fast—except when it moved too slowly.

Sensing a gaze on her, Constance looked up to find the conductor standing a few feet away. He nodded solemnly at her, touched his cap, and turned toward the train.

Ah. Constance did not know who had arranged for the conductor to watch over Gemma, but she suspected Chief Investigator Desautel. Or perhaps Investigator Bérubé, who was in charge of the constabulary in St. Vincent while Maître Desautel was temporarily assigned to Montreal.

It did not matter who had arranged it, but it would have been kind of them to let her know.


They both turned to see a black man in the red cap of a porter’s uniform. He carried three pieces of luggage that Constance did not recognise.

“Oh, thank you!” said Gemma. She looked at the black man in fascination and he smiled, clearly amused. His skin was a brown so dark that his teeth looked startlingly white in contrast.

Constance smiled, too. Until she came to Montreal with Chief Investigator Desautel, she had never seen a black person. She had known of them, of course, but there were none in St. Vincent. It gave her a feeling of kinship with him, knowing that he would stand out in St. Vincent as much as she and her family did.

She took her first deep breath since arriving at the station, noting the smell of coal, roasting beef, and tar.

“Come on,” she said, wrapping an arm around her sister’s waist. She pulled Gemma toward the multiple brass and glass doors that marked the entrance to the station and held one of the doors open for the porter. He nodded his thanks and went through to a cordoned off area in a side hallway where a few carts waited. After loading Gemma’s suitcases onto one of them, he nodded again and they set off.

Gemma strode by Constance’s side as if she knew exactly where she was going, her new high-heeled boots clicking on the marble floor. She glanced up at Constance and grinned.

“You look so official!” laughed Gemma, taking in Constance’s uniform. She wore a heavy black belt on which depended a small handcuff case, a baton and a flashlight. The whole array was heavy. And hot. It was a far cry from the heavy canvas pants and gray woollen shirt that had been her uniform in St. Vincent. Even her hair was up in a proper bun. It always pulled but at least the hairstyle made her look closer to her true age of twenty-two, rather than the sixteen or seventeen that she looked like in human years. And it was cooler.

“And you look so proper,” smiled Constance, taking Gemma’s free hand and holding it out to get a better look at her sister’s outfit.

“Isn’t it lovely?” whispered Gemma. “Mother bought it new!”

She had every reason to be thrilled. The pale blue serge travel skirt and matching jacket with its lovely navy braid were smart and the height of Montreal’s upcoming summer season. Not that Constance followed the trends, but it was hard to avoid noticing how well dressed these Montreal women were. Gemma’s seersucker shirt was not new but it matched so well it might as well have been. Unfortunately, the entire outfit had the effect of making Gemma’s A’lle eyes stand out even more.

Every A’lle on Earth had the same shade of blue eyes, a cross between blueberry and cranberry. Compared to human eyes, A’lle eyes had too much color, as if the iris were larger than that of human eyes. It didn’t help that A’lle pupils were always contracted to a pinprick during daytime hours. There was too much light on this world.

Just as every A’lle had eyes the same shade of blue, each one bore the name of the ship that had crash landed on Earth, two hundred years earlier.

As they entered the grand hall proper, Gemma’s steps slowed on the marble floor and Constance looked around, seeing the place anew through her sister’s eyes. The sheer grandeur of it was enough to catch one’s breath. The hall extended into the distance, where a series of glass doors led to De La Gauchetière Street. There were doors everywhere, and between them, shops of all types—newspapers, magazines, scarves, gloves, stationery, food—not to mention at least three shoe shine stations.

And in the center of everything, taking pride of place, towered the great bronze clock.

A voice over a loud speaker announced the imminent departure of the train for Quebec City and people rushed past them, hurrying toward the platform.

Constance glanced at the string-wrapped parcel in Gemma’s hand. “Is that what I think it is?” she asked, full of hope.

Gemma grinned. “It is, but not for you. It is Prudence’s gift to your chief investigator.”

Constance’s eyebrows rose. She did not know how she felt about the interest Maître Desautel and Prudence seemed to have in each other. There was the age difference, of course, but that was less of a problem among the A’lle than it was among the humans—after all, A’lle lived longer than humans. No, it was the fact that Chief Investigator Desautel was human that bothered her. Her experience of human men interested in A’lle women had always been… disturbing.

And yet, she did not sense prurient interest on the part of the chief investigator. His interest in Prudence seemed genuine, which was perhaps most disturbing of all.

The porter cleared his throat discreetly and Constance looked around.

“Yes, of course.” She turned back to Gemma, who was still staring at the people, the shops, the vaulted ceiling, as if her eyes alone would never be enough to take it all in.

 “I have a car waiting.” Constance nodded to the porter. “This way, please.” She took Gemma by the hand and led the way to the north door, out of the cavernous hall and into the spring sunshine again, where Constable Murphy waited patiently by the curb.

They both blinked furiously while their A’lle eyes adjusted to the light, and Gemma pulled a handkerchief out of her bag and discreetly dabbed at her tearing eyes.

“I can take those.”

Constance nodded her thanks to Constable Murphy and he and the porter set about loading the suitcases into the back of the Parker.

Gemma paused in returning her handkerchief to her bag and stared at Murphy, her mouth open in astonishment. “What amazingly red hair,” she said.

Murphy and the porter looked up and the young constable blushed while the porter grinned. Constance gave her sister a nudge with her elbow.

“Into the back,” she said firmly, opening the door for her.

Gemma hesitated a moment, looking at the white POLICE sign painted on the door, then stepped up and slid down the seat to make room for Constance. She placed the pie carefully on her lap.

Murphy closed the back and circled around to the driver’s door. His face was still red.

“Thank you,” said Constance to the porter, slipping him a few coins. He tipped his cap to her and hurried back into the station with the empty cart.

Constance slid in next to Gemma and closed the door. Normally she would have ridden in front with Murphy. “Gemma, this is Constable Liam Murphy, my colleague. Constable Murphy, this is my sister Gemma.”

Murphy twisted in the front seat to look at them.

“A pleasure, mademoiselle.” He smiled.

Gemma smiled back. “I did not mean to embarrass you.”

Murphy grinned, showing off his dimples. “No redheads in St. Vincent?”

Gemma shook her head and he winked at her before turning back to the front.

Constance barely had time to whisper, “Hang on!” before they were suddenly whisked into traffic to the sound of horns blaring behind them. Gemma clutched at the pie to keep it from sliding off her lap.

Constance caught Gemma’s sideways glance and smiled reassuringly. There was no point trying to explain Murphy’s driving. One had to experience it to understand it.

“Everyone is well?” she asked.

Gemma nodded but kept one hand on the strap hanging from the ceiling and the other on the parcel. “Mother has sent along some summer clothes for you.”

“And Prudence is fully recovered?”

“She is perfectly well,” said Gemma. She slid a sly glance at Constance. “The gift to Monsieur Desautel is in thanks for saving her life.”

Prudence had already thanked him several times. At this rate, the chief investigator’s little paunch would grow back.

Feeling Gemma’s gaze on her Constance looked around. “Amazing, isn’t it?” She gestured at the window with one hand. “At some points of the day, it’s utter chaos and we have to despatch a couple of constables to untangle the snarl and get the motor cars going again.”

“We need electric signals,” said Murphy from the front. He divided his attention between the road and his passengers, thanks to the mirror he had welded where the roof met the windshield. “They have them in Paris, you know.”

“The mayor says we cannot afford them.” Constance shrugged. “Now,” she added, getting back to her sister, “you will find Amanda a little stern, perhaps, but she is kind and she is a good cook. She is giving up one of her bedrooms so that you can have a private space for your studies, but I think she expects you to help with her girls sometimes.”

Gemma nodded. “She lost her husband, didn’t she?”

Constance was silent for a moment, then she nodded. “Ezra. Almost nine months now.”

They both fell silent as Murphy careened around corners at speeds that left Constance grateful her breakfast was long gone.

* * *

An hour later, with Gemma settled at Amanda A’lle’s home in the Alley, Constance and Murphy returned to the main constabulary on St. Denis, pie in hand.

“You know,” said Murphy conversationally as they climbed the concrete steps, “McReady would never have given you the time to meet your sister.”

Constance nodded but didn’t say anything. What Murphy wasn’t saying was that Chief Investigator McReady would never have allowed her to work in his constabulary in the first place.

But McReady was no longer in charge in Montreal. He was in exile in Quebec City while the Magistrate of the Baudry Region investigated him for dereliction of duty.

Chief Investigator Médéric Desautel was cut from a different cloth. Since first learning of the abductions and murders of A’lle, he had dug and dug until he uncovered Doctor Saunders’ role in the murder of Frederick A’lle in Backli’s Ford, and from there, his role in the conspiracy to discover how the A’lle healed so quickly and lived so much longer than humans, a conspiracy that seemed centered in Montreal.

Constance sighed softly. She had liked the doctor. Learning that he was involved in the abductions and dissections of the A’lle, not to mention that he had attacked her sister Prudence… The disappointment had been visceral and now caused her to mistrust her own judgment.

They entered the common room, a room easily four times the size of the one in St. Vincent, with at least a dozen wooden desks, a bank of tall filing cabinets along the long wall, and a row of six holding cells at the back.

And that was just one station house. There were six more on the island of Montreal. She had yet to visit four of them. Of course, Constabulary One was the main constabulary since the chief investigator was stationed there.

The holding cells were full with last night’s revelers and the smell emanating from them made her nose twitch in protest. There were only two constables typing away at their desks. They did not look up as Constance and Murphy entered. They would probably find two or three more constables in the kitchen, eating their lunches. The rest of the dozen or so constables on duty would be on patrol.

“I’m starving,” said Murphy and headed straight for the kitchen. Constance hesitated a moment, wondering if she should bring the pie to the chief investigator right away, then decided to join Murphy. She needed to type up her notes from the interview with Georges and Estelle A’lle, whose daughter had disappeared almost six months ago, but she could do so after eating. Then she would present both notes and pie to the chief investigator.

“Investigator A’lle.” The voice cut across the muted noises of the common room, causing all noise to stop for a moment and making the breath catch in Constance’s throat.

One of the few consolations she had gained from leaving her family behind in St. Vincent and moving to Montreal was that she was also leaving behind Louis Hallepin, Chief Investigator Desautel’s assistant in St. Vincent.

After a few weeks, however, Maître Desautel had dismissed the incumbent assistant, who had remained loyal to McReady, and brought in Louis from St. Vincent.

That had been all the vindication Louis needed.

Constance and Murphy turned as one to face the chief investigator’s assistant, whose desk was at the far end of the room, just outside the chief’s corner office.

“Yes?” said Constance politely.

“Maître Desautel wishes to see you,” said Louis, raising his voice to be sure he was understood across the expanse of the room.

A few months ago, Constance would have automatically approached Louis rather than disturb everyone in the common room, but she had come to learn—thanks mostly to Murphy’s coaching—that humans played subtle games of dominance over each other. She had been shocked to learn, for instance, that standing over a seated person established dominance, as did standing too close to a person or forcing a person to come to you. Louis, it seemed, was a master at these little games.

It baffled her that humans played these games but when she asked Murphy to explain, he had shrugged.

“Sometimes it’s calculated to make someone tell you what you want to know,” he said. “Sometimes it’s the natural behavior of a superior.”

Constance had paid attention after that but while she had seen many of the constables play these games, especially with her, she had never seen the chief investigator do so. Not once. Perhaps he did not know how.

Or perhaps, like her, he did not care.

She glanced at Murphy and saw his mouth twitch suspiciously. Without a word, she started across the common room, heading for the chief investigator’s office. She took Prudence’s pie with her.

The first thing the chief investigator had done when he had taken over the Montreal Constabulary was appropriate a corner of the common room, one with windows, and build walls around it to create a small office. Constance had said nothing, but secretly she had approved. McReady had isolated himself on the second floor, at the far end of the hallway—as far away from the pulse of his constabulary as he could get.

No wonder the man had known nothing about the abductions and murders of the A’lle in his jurisdiction.

She brushed past Louis and knocked on the chief investigator’s door jamb.

“Entrez,” he called.

Constance entered and found the chief investigator writing at his desk. He glanced up and nodded her to a chair. She sat and waited for him to finish. As an afterthought, she set the pie on the floor by her feet, where its presence would not distract the chief investigator.

A moment later, he set his pen down on the wooden tray containing his ink well and pressed blotting paper down on the sheet on his desk. Finally, he sat back and looked at her.


Constance stifled a sigh of frustration. “Non, maître.”

It seemed no matter how many A’lle she interviewed, she only heard a variation of the same story. A loved one had gone out or been left alone and was never seen again. Many had recognized the doctor from photographs as being the doctor who had ministered to their loved one or to someone close by, but no one had actually seen the doctor abduct anyone.

Not that it mattered.

The doctor had admitted his role in the abductions, had even admitted conducting illegal tests on the abductees, but he swore that he had only withdrawn blood from the captives. And he refused to disclose the names of his colleagues in the conspiracy, for though the doctor might have contented himself with drawing blood, others had not. The few bodies that had been recovered had had their organs removed, no doubt for examination.

“And you?” she asked softly.

The chief investigator stood up and went to stand by the window, which was open, letting in a breeze to help cool her down. He stared out the window that faced St. Denis and crossed his arms over his chest. He had lost weight since arriving in Montreal and the little paunch he had sported in St. Vincent was almost gone.

“No,” he said finally.

She nodded even though he could not see her. The chief investigator had been looking for Lucie A’lle for two months. Her sister, Odile, had come to him when they first arrived in Montreal and he had promised he would do everything in his power to find Lucie. Unfortunately, that was very little. He had personally interviewed every merchant on Ste. Catherine between the tramway stop where Lucie and Odile had parted ways on that morning and Ogilvy’s, the store where Lucie A’lle had worked. All to no avail.

Like all the others, she had vanished without a trace. The only slim hope that remained was the fact that her body had not been found. Constance swallowed against a sudden sour taste. No, Lucie A’lle was young and female. They—whoever “they” were—would try to breed her, as they had learned when they arrested Dr. Saunders earlier in the year.

That was what the doctor called it. Breeding them. Constance called it raping them. Whatever else the kidnappers thought, nothing would ever come of a union between human and A’lle. Their blood chemistry was too different. Unless they thought they had found a way to overcome that particular hurdle.

“We are accomplishing nothing here,” she said bitterly. “Two months we have been here and we have learned nothing new.”

The chief investigator took a deep breath. “There is no other way to go about it. We must go step by plodding step until we find something that will lead us in the right direction.” He turned to look at her, his eyes seemingly more deep set than before. “We keep looking, Investigator A’lle, until we turn over the right rock.”

“There have been no new reports,” she said in an effort to ease the mood. “We have accomplished that much, at least.”

He nodded and resumed his seat. It was little consolation to him, just as it was little consolation to her. He pasted a smile on his face and visibly shook off his gloom.

“Your sister is settled?”

“Yes, maître,” said Constance with a smile. “She starts nursing school tomorrow and is very excited.”

He smiled in return. “Is that her… talent?” he asked softly, so as not to be overheard by Louis’ finely attuned ears. “Is she a healer?”

Constance nodded but added nothing else. Gemma’s talent was more closely related to finding what was wrong with the body than to healing, though healing was part of it. Constance did not wish to explain this to the chief investigator. No A’lle spoke of their talent to humans if they could help it. A’lle had been burned at the stake for admitting to their talents.

The chief investigator knew about Constance’s talent only because she had been forced to tell him in order to enlist his help in protecting her family last winter. He and Murphy were the only two humans who knew about her ability to sense the truth in a person’s heart simply by touching them.

“And your family is well?” he asked.

Part of Constance wanted to smile, but most of her wanted to sigh. “Yes, they are well. Prudence sends her regards, and a gift.”

Interest sharpened his gaze. Without a word, Constance leaned down and picked up the box by the strings tying it closed. Without a word, she handed him the parcel. He held it in his hand for a long moment, a smile on his face. Finally, he looked up at her.

“Please convey my thanks,” he said. “Her pies are becoming my greatest weakness.”

Constance suspected that his weakness resided more with the baker than the baked goods, but she held her tongue.

Desautel set the pie down carefully on the desk and leaned back in his chair, studying her. “I am going to interview Doctor Saunders this afternoon,” he said slowly. “I would like you to come with me.”

Constance stared back at him, wondering if he was asking her what she thought he was asking her.


The Au-Pied-du-Courant jail was an imposing, forbidding edifice of gray stone blocks. It dominated the three acres of land on which it stood, on De Lorimier, close by the St. Lawrence River, and hid behind a tall stone wall. A massive wooden door barred access to the inner courtyard. It had been years since Desautel had had a reason to visit it.

Murphy set the brake on the Parker and Desautel got out into the warm spring sunshine. He, Constance and Murphy went to stand by the door. The grass at the foot of the wall had already turned green and the fecund smell of thawing earth warred with the stench of thawing outhouses.

To Desautel’s surprise, Constance A’lle had chosen to sit in front with Murphy. The entire trip, she had watched the young constable’s hands and feet while he maneuvered the motor car around the streets of Montreal. Desautel suspected she wished to learn how to drive, and it was a good idea. Lower Canada was becoming more and more motorized. The day would come, he felt certain, where knowing how to drive would be an asset for every constable.

Still, he hoped her style would be less… exciting than the young constable’s.

He pulled on the bell next to the door and it rang out, alerting the inhabitants that someone desired admission. Almost at once the massive door opened soundlessly and a burly man in the black uniform of a guard stared out at them.


“Chief Investigator Desautel. I called ahead.”

The guard nodded, but the suspicious look did not leave his face. He stepped aside to allow them entry. Desautel noticed the hard look he gave Constance A’lle but said nothing. He had grown accustomed to this reaction but as long as the man did his job and treated her with the respect due to an investigator, Desautel would say nothing. Investigator A’lle would not melt under a hard look and if he had to remonstrate with every person who behaved in an unfriendly manner toward her, he would be constantly berating people.

And if he were to be brutally honest with himself, he would have to admit that until a few months ago, he had been one of them.

The jail rose four floors, with bars on all the windows. It was a massive building that did not try to hide its purpose. Desautel had been here often, especially in his early days as a lawyer, but until Doctor Saunders was incarcerated here, he hadn’t been inside the gates in over ten years.

The heavy door closed behind them and he heard the metal bar fall into place. The guard led them down the gravel path, their boots crunching in the stones. The jail was perhaps forty feet from the stone wall, and the space between wall and building was filled with grass. Flower beds edged the inner wall and followed the walk to the door of the building proper. Prisoners took air and exercise behind the building.

Once inside, they went through a number of locked doors, their steps echoing on the marble floor of the empty hallway, until the guard left them at the superintendent’s outer office.

Superintendent Lavoie came out of his office before his assistant could even announce them. He shook hands with Desautel and nodded to Constance and Murphy.

“Good to see you again, Médéric,” he said. “The doctor is waiting for you in the interview room.”

Merci, Charles,” said Desautel, clapping the man on the arm. He and Charles Lavoie had grown up together on the Plateau Mont Royal, though they had lost touch over the years. He had been very pleased to find his old friend still in Montreal and to learn that he was now in charge at the Pied.

Charles’ hairline had receded over the years, as had Desautel’s, but his green eyes still looked the same—calm and patient, with a hint of laughter lurking behind them. He had five children, Desautel suddenly remembered. And three grandchildren.

“Are all three of you going in?” asked Charles, looking at Constance and Murphy.

“No need,” said Desautel easily. “Murphy can observe while Investigator A’lle comes with me.” He grew aware of Murphy’s sidelong glance but chose to ignore it.

He knew he was being hypocritical. He also knew he was being unfair to ask this of Constance, but if they did not learn something new soon, the investigation would falter and the perpetrators of these appalling crimes would go unpunished.

And that he would not allow.

Bon.” Charles turned to lead the way. “This way.”

Half of the main floor was devoted to the administrative offices of the Pied, while the other half consisted of interview rooms and an infirmary. The top three floors were jail cells.

Charles led them past offices filled with grim-faced men who looked up sharply as they walked by their open doors. His ring of keys jingled as he walked. Charles had remained thin over the years, but his angles were now sharper and harder, as if he were slowly turning into the stone from which this place was built.

A faint smell permeated the entire building. It had been there for as long as Desautel could remember. He always thought of it as the smell of despair.

Behind him, Constance A’lle’s feet seemed to drag as she followed them through one locked door, then two more until they were in a corridor lined with doors and mesh-covered windows. A guard stood before the nearest door and there Charles stopped.

Through the wire mesh window, Desautel could see a door at the far side of the room that led to a staircase he remembered from previous visits. In the middle of the room, a long, narrow table was bolted to the floor, with a chair on either side, one of which was also bolted to the floor. Doctor Saunders sat patiently on the fixed chair, his hands chained together and the chain threaded through an eye affixed to the table. His feet were similarly chained to an eyebolt in the floor.

“The guard will stay by the door,” said Charles. “There is another guard outside the other door.” He nodded to the door on the opposite side of the interview room. “Call out if you need anything.”

Desautel knew his friend meant if the prisoner became troublesome, but the doctor was chained down. Unless he had become a magician in the last two months, he was not going anywhere.

“Thank you.” Desautel nodded at Constance and she preceded him inside the room. He glanced at Murphy but the young man was already taking his notebook out. Good lad, that. Murphy took his place in front of the wire mesh window and nodded to Desautel.

Charles exchanged a few words with the guard, then left.

Doctor Saunders watched as Desautel entered and closed the door behind him. His eyes flickered to Constance A’lle where she stood by the far wall to one side of the mesh window, then flickered back.

He had been slender, but now he seemed gaunt and his eyes looked hollow and haunted. With his black hair and blue, blue eyes, he might have been a distant relative of the A’lle but Desautel had never seen one with a beard. Apparently the doctor was not permitted a blade. The trial had ended two weeks ago and to Desautel’s pleasant surprise, the doctor and his henchman—the one who had survived—were found guilty. The doctor’s accomplice, Blaine, was hanged only last week but the doctor was sentenced to life in prison.

“Why are you here?” asked Doctor Saunders abruptly. “Did you come to gloat?” He glanced at Constance again and Desautel could not guess what was behind those shadowed eyes.

He took his time sitting down and adjusting his chair. He placed his hands on the table and locked his fingers together. He realized suddenly that he was not well prepared. The doctor was a clever man and would see through any subterfuge if Desautel was not careful. He took a deep breath and released it slowly.

“Non, docteur,” he said, looking the man in the eye. The bearded, dishevelled man before him was a far cry from the man he had first met in Backli’s Ford. That man had been well trimmed and clothed, confident in his ability to fool the constabulary.

“I am here to give you a final chance,” said Desautel. He studied the man’s eyes and decided that what he had taken for truculence was perhaps more akin to despair. This man had given up hope.

The doctor smiled humorlessly. “A final chance to do what, chief investigator?” He raised a hand as if to wave at the room but the chain stopped him short and he had to content himself with a sweeping nod. “Are you implying that if I answer your questions, you will set me free from this… place?”

Desautel’s eyebrow rose. “Not at all. You will die in this place,” he said bluntly. “That is the path you chose for yourself when you collaborated with murderers. When you tried to kill Prudence A’lle.”

The doctor’s shoulders slumped. “I did not try to kill her,” he said tiredly. “I knew you would find her in time.”

Constance A’lle did not say anything but Desautel was suddenly aware of a change in the quality of her silence. The doctor straightened and looked at Constance as if sensing it, too.

“You may believe that,” said Desautel, “but I do not.” Unbidden, an image of Prudence as they had found her in the doctor’s shed, bound, bloody and with a knife in her chest came to his mind and clipped his words. “It was only the grace of God that allowed us to find her in time. If not for that, you would have swung from the noose, as your accomplice did.”

The doctor shrugged tiredly but said nothing.

“Tell us their names,” said Constance A’lle suddenly, startling both men.

Saunders looked at her fully for the first time. “I cannot,” he said, repeating the same refrain. “You know this.”

“Then we will ask your sister,” said Desautel, standing up abruptly.

Startled, the doctor made as if to stand, too, only to be jerked back by his chains. “My sister?” He visibly forced himself to relax. “You don’t know where she is.” He said it with a conviction only faintly tinged with doubt.

He was in league with the men who were kidnapping and experimenting on the A’lle. He had admitted as much. He had, however, insisted that his role had been to withdraw blood only, to analyze it for ways of helping his sister recover from a fall that had paralyzed her. He knew that the A’lle body could regenerate itself quickly, and he believed that if he could understand how, he could then apply that knowledge to help save his sister. And others.

Desautel remained still. He could lie, try to bluff it out, but the man would see through him right away.

“We are very close to finding her,” he said instead and saw the fear leave the doctor’s eyes. “And when we do we will charge her with aiding and abetting your crimes.”

“You would not!” The doctor turned to Constance, then apparently thinking better of it, looked at Desautel. “I have told you, she is paralyzed and had nothing to do with my research.”

Constance pulled away from the wall and walked toward the doctor. “We don’t care,” she said almost cheerfully. She smiled at him and Desautel hoped she never turned that same smile on him. “We believe she knows the same men you do. We will find her, charge her, and try her. Unless she tells us what we want to know. Of course, you could save her from all this unpleasantness by telling us yourself.”

“You would put her through that as a… a bargaining chip? What kind of people are you?”

Rage rose in Desautel and he looked down at his hands in an effort to regain control. This man had wittingly lured A’lle to their deaths and he sat there questioning his humanity?

Sensing her gaze on him, he looked up at Constance. After a moment, he nodded. She took her place by the doctor and took his hand, holding on firmly when he sought to pull away. The doctor jumped as if shocked then turned to face Desautel.

“Her witch’s tricks won’t help you,” he said grimly. “You clearly don’t understand the kind of men you’re dealing with. They will find their way into this prison and have me killed if they suspect I am talking to you.” His voice dropped. “But first they will kill my sister.”

 “While it is admirable that you seek to save your sister, docteur,” said Constance coldly, “allowing my people to die in order to save her is not an option I will consider. Who are the others in your cabal?”

The doctor shook his head.

“I will not speak to you.”

Constance dropped his hand and stepped away. She looked at Desautel and he saw the resignation in her eyes. Without a word, he stood up and left, followed by Constance.


 “No,” said Murphy firmly.

Constance crossed her arms and stared fixedly at him. He shook his head.

“No. He’ll have my hide.”

They stood in the deserted courtyard behind the constabulary. The constabulary, its courtyard and the stables spanned the width of the block. A dozen or so horses shuffled noisily as they moved within their stalls. The odor of fresh hay almost overrode the pungent aroma of manure. The stable boy in St. Vincent would never have allowed manure to remain in the stable.

It had rained overnight and this morning the cobblestones of the courtyard were still wet and slick. Murphy wore his uniform jacket buttoned up. For Constance, this was the coolest part of the day, though it was still too warm for comfort. She had left her jacket at Madame Maillet’s inn.

Technically, the Auberge Maillet was not a rooming house, but Madame Maillet had invited Constance to stay at a favorable rent. Constance had hesitated, but Chief Investigator Desautel had strongly encouraged her to stay. Constance finally agreed when she decided that the offer was sincere. She liked Madame Maillet and the older woman seemed to like her, too. To Constance’s surprise, the chief inspector had chosen a rooming house a two-minute walk from the constabulary, more for the sake of propriety than for convenience, she suspected. He and Madame Maillet were old friends.

While Constance was relieved not to share accommodations with her superior, the proximity of his quarters to the constabulary meant that the chief investigator could arrive at any moment. She needed to persuade Murphy soon.

“I wish to learn,” she said, uncrossing her arms. “I want you to teach me.”

Murphy shook his head. The early morning sun had yet to reach the shade of the courtyard and his face seemed to glow with the ambient light.

“Not without his say-so. Do you have any idea how much the Parker cost?” His own arms crossed over his chest, he stared at her, stubbornness personified. A smell of petrol wafted over the courtyard, a reminder that half the stables had been—mostly—converted into a motor court.

Constance sighed. She did not see why she needed permission to learn to drive. It would be an asset to the constabulary to have one more investigator able to convey themselves and others to wherever they needed to go.

“Today is Wednesday,” she said.

Murphy opened his mouth to say something, then closed it. On Wednesdays, Chief Investigator Desautel went to see Odile A’lle to report on the investigation to date on the disappearance of her sister, Lucie. In the two months since he had first met Odile, he had not failed to present himself to her, look her in the eye, and report his continuing failure. Constance thought of this little ritual as a penance of sorts.

Wednesdays were not good days at the constabulary.

Murphy shook his head and his arms uncrossed. “No,” he said. “It’s too risky.” Before Constance could argue further, he continued. “Didn’t you say you wanted to pick up your sister?”

After a moment, Constance nodded. “Yes.” She would continue this later. She fished the watch out of her pocket and looked at the time. “She is at Amanda’s house.”

He nodded and they both hurried to the converted half of the stables. She pulled the double doors open, letting in light and air while he went to the Parker, parked three in, and started it up.

She was surprised that Murphy was being so difficult. He knew the value of another driver for the constabulary and was not one to hoard power. He was an intelligent young man, quick-witted and funny, and most importantly, honorable. He had been assigned to Chief Investigator Desautel by the former chief investigator of the Montreal constabulary, McReady. At first, she and Desautel had suspected that Murphy was actually assigned to spy on them and report back to McReady, but if that had been McReady’s assumption, he had ended up disappointed. Murphy had been as shocked as they were by the abductions and murders among the A’lle and had worked alongside them to learn who was behind the crimes.

The Parker slowly rolled out of the converted stable and came to a stop next to her. She climbed in silently and spent the entire drive to the Alley, the Pointe St. Charles neighborhood where so many Montreal A’lle lived, watching Murphy’s hands and feet as he manipulated the car. She thought she would be able to handle the clutch and the gas pedal, but the choke mystified her.

Amanda A’lle lived on a small residential street between two avenues. The owners of the house, humans, lived on the main floor and Amanda and her two girls lived on the top floor. Constance had first met her in February, during the initial investigation, and she had been struck by the older woman’s strength and confidence.

Word of the events in Backli’s Ford had swept through the A’lle community so that by the time Constance returned to Montreal to work, she found her welcome among the A’lle much warmer than it had been originally. Amanda had taken to inviting her over for hot chocolate and over the winter they had established a bond of friendship, despite the disparity in their ages and circumstances. When Mother informed Constance that Gemma would be moving to Montreal, Constance turned to Amanda for advice, and was pleasantly surprised when Amanda offered to put Gemma up.

It took twenty minutes to reach the Alley, and another few minutes to pull up in front of Amanda’s house. They climbed the spiral staircase, their boots clanging on the metal treads, so that by the time they reached the second floor, the door was already open and Amanda stood in the doorway, waiting.

“Good morning,” said Constance.

Amanda A’lle rarely smiled. Despite her thick black hair, high cheekbones and sweet mouth, there was a sternness about her.

“Good morning,” said Amanda. “Have you time for hot chocolate?” She nodded an acknowledgement to Murphy.

“I don’t think so,” began Constance just as Gemma arrived to stand next to Amanda.

“Constance!” she said. “Are we ready?”

“As soon as you are,” said Constance cheerfully.

Gemma wore a cotton dress with three-quarter length sleeves and a hemline that hovered between her ankle and her calf. It was a sober gray with blue and yellow flowers and showed off her slim figure. Her hair was pulled back in a loose chignon. She glanced shyly at Murphy and when Constance turned to look at him, she caught him staring at her sister.

“I’m ready,” said Gemma. Her cheeks were pink with excitement and there was a sparkle in her eye that Constance had never seen before. Was it Murphy’s attention that bloomed her cheeks, or the prospect of nursing school?

Swallowing a sigh, Constance stepped back on the small stoop, forcing Murphy to descend a step or two. Gemma stepped out, carrying a gingham cloth bag that presumably contained her lunch.

“Goodbye, Maggie!” she called over her shoulder. “Goodbye, Lizzie!”

Amanda’s two daughters came running up to the door. “See you later, Gemma!” They were nine and ten and usually shy, but today they stood grinning up at Gemma as she kissed each one on the forehead before waving at Amanda.

Murphy made way on the stairs and Gemma passed him. He fell in with alacrity and this time, Constance’s sigh was audible. When she looked around at Amanda, she found the older woman smiling at her, a fact so unusual that Constance stared.

“Don’t worry about her,” said Amanda. “She has a good head on her shoulders. I told her the best route to take. She’ll be fine.”

Constance suddenly found herself wondering how mothers—parents, really—did it.

“I’ll be back to walk her home at the end of the day,” said Constance.

Amanda’s eyebrows rose.

“Do you plan to do this every day?”

Constance shook her head. “No. Just often enough for everyone to know that her sister is an investigator with the Montreal constabulary.”

Amanda stared at her for a moment, then nodded.

“Constance,” called Gemma from below.

“Coming.” Constance gave Amanda and the girls a wave goodbye and ran down the stairs lightly. When she reached the street level, she tucked her arm in her sister’s.

“We are walking,” she told Murphy.

Murphy glanced at the Parker, then back at the two of them. He looked like he wanted to object but then his eyebrows rose slightly and he nodded. “In that case, I’ll wait for you at the school.”

“Thank you, Constable Murphy,” said Gemma.

She and Murphy were of a height and Constance was struck suddenly by what a handsome couple they would make.

“We’ll be late if we don’t hurry,” she said abruptly, turning Gemma away from Murphy and urging her sister into a fast stride.

After a few moments, Gemma protested. “I don’t want to be dishevelled before I even get there!”

After that, they settled into an easier pace, chatting about the family’s doings. Constance let her sister chatter on while she made eye contact with every person she passed, memorizing faces. The Sisters of Ste. Ursule school was about a mile from Amanda’s home. They stayed on the main road, along with the horse-drawn carts and the occasional delivery truck. While it would no doubt be easier and faster to take the tram, Gemma’s budget would not allow it. Besides, she would have to trek uphill for a quarter mile to reach the nearest tram line.

The Jubilee Bridge loomed ahead, lovely and airy, rising above the poor neighborhood of Pointe St. Charles. The school was only a few blocks from the bridge, in a converted convent.

“I’ll be back at six o’clock to pick you up,” said Constance as they approached the open gates of the convent. Murphy was already there, parked next to the gates and leaning conspicuously against the hood of the Parker.

Young women streamed past him in ones and twos on their way inside, glancing at him in curiosity. Some wore the striped grey dress and starched white pinafore and kerchief of nursing sisters. A few caught sight of Constance and Gemma and stared.

Constance was already uncomfortably warm. She headed for the Parker, where she kept a bottle of water. She took a long swallow and turned to offer some to Gemma, finding her sister talking with Murphy.

“Water?” she asked.

Gemma nodded and took the bottle. She looked fresh still but Constance knew that the days ahead would be trying ones for her sister. She would be expected to pay attention to instructors while the stultifying heat tried to paralyze her brain. Then, at the end of the day, when the heat still hovered over the city, she would have to walk the mile back to Amanda’s home.

What were Mother and Father thinking?

At least the class was only six months long.

“I need to go in now,” said Gemma, handing the bottle back to her. She nodded at the few young women still trickling past. “I don’t want to be late.”

Of its own volition, Constance’s hand reached for her sister’s and she squeezed it. “Good luck,” she whispered. “You know how to contact me.”

Gemma smiled reassuringly. “I have memorized the telephone exchange,” she said. “And I have studied the map showing the location of the constabulary. I will be fine.” She freed her hand and turned to Murphy.

“Thank you, Constable Murphy.”

“Liam,” he said with a smile.

“Then it’s Gemma,” she said. Then she turned and walked toward the stone steps of the old convent, leaving Constance and Murphy to stare after her.

“We should get back,” said Constance, not looking at her colleague. “Maître Desautel will be looking for you.”

* * *

Desautel slit open the heavy vellum envelope and pulled out the cream-colored invitation. He studied the fanciful calligraphy for a moment, frowning.

The presence of

Chief Investigator Médéric Desautel

is humbly requested

at a soirée hosted by

Judge Andrew James Ruffington III

on Thursday, April 13

7:30 p.m.

Jaillard House

Andrew Ruffington. It was not a name with which he was familiar. And a judge. Jaillard House, that he knew from his student days. It had belonged to Maître Antoine Desrosiers, a fine lawyer who had retired from practicing law to teach. Desautel had spent many evenings there with his fellow students, drinking Maître Desrosiers’ fine wine and discussing law.

He stood up with card in hand and walked over to the window that gave onto St. Denis. The morning sun rose above the buildings across the way, creating so much glare that he could barely make out the greengrocer’s meager produce displayed in raised flats on the sidewalk. The wet cobblestones were already drying out. It was going to be a beautiful day.

He sighed softly as he tapped the card against the palm of his hand. He wondered if Odile A’lle dreaded his visit as much as he dreaded visiting her.

His glance fell on the card again. He had no idea why this man had invited him, but he had grown accustomed to such invitations in the last two months. He had been renewing old friendships and allowing himself to be drawn into the social life of Montreal. Straightforward investigating was getting him nowhere on the A’lle abductions and he was growing desperate.

That was the only reason he had placed Constance A’lle in that position yesterday at the jail. He had learned of her extraordinary gift during their investigation of Frederick A’lle’s murder in Backli’s Ford. Apparently all A’lle had a gift, some extra sense that allowed them to excel in some area. Constance A’lle’s parents excelled at finding lost items, or people. Her sister Prudence excelled at making a home. Her sister Gemma, apparently, excelled at healing people.

And Constance A’lle excelled at reading the truth in people’s hearts. With one touch, she could tell if the person spoke the truth or not. She could divine the person’s intentions. He had seen her do it in Backli’s Ford—to him, Constable Murphy, and finally, the doctor.

This “gift” of hers offended him. In fact, he had been furious when he first learned of it… and then he had given her permission to use it on the doctor.

In the last few months, he had given it much thought and finally decided that using her ability was a form of assault. A rape. He had accepted her explanation that among the A’lle, there was a great taboo against using her gift, unless sanctioned by a Council of Elders. And he had come to accept that the young woman would never use the gift for private gain.

But that was Constance. What if another A’lle had the same gift? Without Constance’s principles and morals?

Life had been much simpler before Constance A’lle was assigned to his constabulary in St. Vincent.

He stared unseeingly at the card. Something the doctor had let slip when they first captured him had continued to nag at Desautel. The man had said that the people behind the abductions were powerful and rich.

Such men erected many barriers between themselves and an inquisitive chief investigator. In a social context, however, where drinks flowed liberally, things were often said that otherwise would have remained hidden.

His finger traced the calligraphy, pausing on the date. It was for tomorrow night. A last-minute invitation, from a man he did not know. He took a deep breath. Perhaps this was the opportunity he had been waiting for.

A knock at the door startled him.

“Entrez,” he called.

The door opened to reveal Constable Murphy, cap in hand.

“Ready whenever you are, maître,” he said solemnly.

Desautel nodded and tossed the invitation on the desk. He reached for his uniform jacket and his cap and followed the young constable out.

As always, it took too little time to reach the offices of Brabant and Sons, on Ste. Catherine. Desautel got out and nodded to Constable Murphy to wait for him, though the young constable hardly needed to be told. He straightened his jacket, pulled down his sleeves and took a deep breath before climbing the steps to the front door with its glass inset and gold lettering. A moment later, he stood in front of the receptionist’s desk, his cap tucked neatly under his arm. The young man stood up and nodded gravely.

“Good morning, chief investigator. Miss A’lle is in the boardroom.” He nodded toward the door to his left.

“Thank you, Mr. Ellis,” said Desautel. He went through the short swinging gate and knocked once on the boardroom door. The reception area smelled of furniture polish.

“Come in.”

Desautel pushed open the door. The boardroom was as familiar to him now as his own office. A long, mahogany table polished to a mirror-like finish, with ten black leather chairs arrayed around it. A sideboard with a selection of liquor and glasses on a silver tray. A large window with green velvet drapes swept aside to allow the light in.

Odile A’lle stood by the window, her hands clasped at her waist. As always, she wore a long black skirt, this one fitted at the waist and rising high in front, and a white blouse with a black satin trim around the collar and cuffs. Her hair was black, as was that of all the A’lle, and it was swept up in a neat French braid at the back of her head. With the window at her back, he could not see her expression.

“Mademoiselle A’lle,” he said by way of greeting.

“Chief investigator. Have you news for me?”

They had fallen into this same pattern, week after week. The routine should have numbed him by now, but somehow, it only made his failure worse. He stepped forward jerkily, as if he had little control over his limbs, and made his way to the window, so that he could see her more clearly. He stopped when he was a few feet away.

“Non, mademoiselle,” he said softly. “I am sorry to report that I have yet to learn anything new about your sister’s disappearance.”

He saw the flicker of pain in her eyes before she looked away. Human or A’lle, pain was pain. He closed his own eyes against the sight. For a moment, Prudence A’lle’s face swam before his mind’s eye. As always, he gained strength from the thought of Prudence. She had sent him a pie. She had thought of him. She did not think him a failure.

He opened his eyes to find Odile A’lle looking at him.

“You do not need to keep returning,” she said. “I know you are doing everything you can to find Lucie.”

Her understanding was worse than her disappointment. He nodded stiffly.

“I know, mademoiselle,” he said. “Yet I feel I owe it to you.”

She sighed softly. “Then consider your duty discharged for this week.” She turned away to look through the window again.

Without a word, Desautel placed the cap on his head and turned to leave. Every time he left her, his one overwhelming feeling was of pity that she could not weep. That none of them could weep.


To pre-order Epidemic: An A’lle Chronicles Mystery (Book 2), visit:

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Epidemic: An A’lle Chronicles Mystery

The latest installment of the A’lle Chronicles is now available as a pre-order. Epidemic: An A’lle Chronicles Mystery follows Constance A’lle to Montreal where she and Chief Investigator Desautel try to discover who is kidnapping and murdering the A’lle. Here’s the blurb:

In the early 1700s, an A’lle generation ship crashed in the woods of Lower Canada. Survivors stumbled out of the wreckage to find French settlers working the land. While many of the colonists sheltered the injured A’lle, some reacted with fear and loathing. Two centuries later, nothing much has changed.

Two months after the events in Backli’s Ford, Constance A’lle, first A’lle investigator for Lower Canada, and Chief Investigator Desautel still haven’t identified the cabal responsible for the kidnapping and murder of so many A’lle.

While they pursue their investigation in Montreal, Constance is sidetracked by her sister Gemma’s arrival. The investigation is further hindered by rumors of an epidemic—an epidemic for which the A’lle might be responsible. As the citizens of Montreal deal with their dead and dying, anger grows against the immune A’lle.

When Gemma experiences first hand the simmering resentment against the A’lle, Constance finds herself fighting to keep her sister safe while dealing with attacks intended to kill her.

With A’lle hostility against the humans growing, it’s only a question of time before the two clash and the fragile relationship between humans and A’lle shatters.

About Backli’s Ford, the first A’lle Chronicles mystery: Set in 1911, Backli’s Ford follows Constance as she survives an ambush that would have killed a human, fights prejudice in the constabulary, and discovers a terrible secret that risks destroying the delicate balance that has endured for two centuries between A’lle and humans.

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