Evangeline into posing for him, threatening her with loss of her job. David Bastarache had fallen in love with Evangeline. Appalled by his half-brother’s activities, he vowed to sack and boot Malo as soon as control fell to him, as Hilaire had told him it would.

Though I’d gained some insight into Bastarache’s character, the man still mystified me.

“Explain it to me, Hippo. How could such thinking exist today?”

Hippo chewed as he gave my question thought.

“Every Acadian kid grows up on tales of ancestors being hunted down and deported. Le Grand Derangement still haunts us as a people. And it’s not just ancient history. Acadians see their culture as constantly threatened by a hostile, Anglo-dominated world.”

I let him go on.

“How do you keep alive your customs and language while your kids are watching Seinfeld and listening to the Stones? While their city cousins can barely parler a few words of French?”

I took the questions as rhetorical, and didn’t answer.

“We Acadians have learned to hold on to our identity no matter what life throws at us. How? Partly through sheer obstinacy. Partly by making everything larger than life. Our music. Our food. Our festivals. Even our fears.”

“But it’s not the 1800s,” I said. “Or even the 1960s. How can Bastarache distrust hospitals and government that much?”

“Bastarache is Acadian by nature. He also operates businesses that run close to the line. On top of all that, he’s got personal baggage. Vile father. Deviate brother. Mother shot. Homeschooled.” Hippo shrugged. “The guy seems to genuinely love your pal. Didn’t want her harmed. Did what he thought was best to protect her.”

Malo had been right about one thing. Obeline and Bastarache were living in the dark ages with regard to their attitude toward Evangeline’s disease. Like the nursing nuns of a century before, Obeline had sacrificed for leprosy, committing to a loveless marriage in order to care for her sister. Bastarache had been complicit in hiding Evangeline away.

“Obeline lied about seeing Evangeline murdered,” I said. “To throw me off. She also let everyone believe Bastarache was responsible for the broken arm and the fire.”

“He wasn’t?” Hippo was thumbnailing something from a molar.

I shook my head. “Because of the leprosy, Evangeline had little feeling in her hands and feet. Obeline cracked her ulna attempting to stop Evangeline from falling downstairs. It was also Evangeline who accidentally set the house on fire.

“She also lied about the poetry book. Obeline had it published as a birthday gift for Evangeline. Anonymously, since no one was to know her sister was alive.”

Having achieved success with the molar, Hippo was cream-cheesing a second bagel. I continued talking.

“The great tragedy is that Evangeline could have led a relatively normal life. Multidrug therapies are readily available and patients usually show improvement in two to three months. Fewer than one tenth of one percent of those treated fail to be cured.”

“There still much leprosy around?”

I’d done some research on that.

“The global registered prevalence of leprosy at the beginning of 2006 was almost two hundred and twenty thousand cases. And it’s not just Africa and Southeast Asia. Thirty-two thousand of those cases are right here in the Americas. Over six thousand in the United States. Two hundred to two hundred and fifty new cases are diagnosed each year.”

“I’ll be damned.”

“Bastarache and Obeline did for Evangeline exactly what had been done for her mother, never realizing the enormity of the mistake.”

“One thing I don’t get. Bastarache hated Malo. Why stash her with him?”

“Evangeline had only been at Malo’s house a short time. When Harry and I dropped in on Obeline, Bastarache freaked. Figured if we found the house in Tracadie there was a possibility we could also find the one on Ile d’Orleans. When Ryan and I actually did show up there, he panicked and raced back to move her again.”

My eyes drifted to the row of neatly labeled boxes. Genevieve Doucet, left to mummify in her bed by poor deranged Theodore. Anne Girardin, killed by her father.

I thought of others. Ryan’s MP number two, Claudine Cloquet, sold to Malo by her father. Evangeline, locked away by her would-be husband and her sister, though undoubtedly with her own consent.

“You know, Hippo, the bogeyman’s not always hanging out in the school yard or at the bus depot. He can be the guy in your parlor hogging the remote.”

Hippo stared at me as though I’d spoken Swahili.

“Someone right there in your own family. That’s often where the threat is.”

“Yeah,” Hippo said softly.

My eyes settled on the name now attached to the girl from Lac des Deux Montagnes. Maude Waters. Maude had also had movie star dreams. Was dead at sixteen.

My thoughts veered to Malo. He’d claimed no knowledge of Phoebe Quincy. Again, his employee had told a different tale. Sardou stated that he’d seen Phoebe at the house on Rustique. But only briefly.

Phoebe remained missing.

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