It had been a beautiful day, sunny, cold. A patch of fog had caused the pilot of the Cessna to become disoriented, and the plane had gone down. Leo had survived the crash. He had pulled Olivier and the pilot out of the wreckage, and he was there when the rescue came. They had spooked him, and he'd run away. I had been on the first plane out, arriving in France twenty-one hours later, and I had looked for Leo for weeks. Gone home to arrange Olivier's funeral and come back. Kept track of sightings. I had set traps to catch him—crates with food inside that would close when he went in. I had spent hours trekking over slopes and in the forest.
And then the sightings faltered. Spring came, then summer. Soon the weather would turn. Winter in the Alps is brutal, and storms can rage for days. I had given up.
The first thing that I noticed about Capitaine Philippe Brevard was his voice. It was deep and mellow with a resonance that made him easy for me to hear. The second time I asked him to repeat what he said, he paused.
'I will speak English with you?'
'Yes, thank you. I am confused as to why you are now investigating the death of my husband. I thought the investigation was done by the BEA.' Any accident in French airspace was scrutinized and analyzed by the Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety. My back was up. I knew I sounded formal and cold.
'Yes, they also investigate. They are concerned with aviation safety. But there is also a judicial...a criminal investigation into the crash if there is a fatality. So in that circumstance, there are always two investigations. Both have been ongoing from the beginning. But there have been developments, and I have been called in.'
'I see,' I said. But I didn't. 'What do you mean, "developments"?'
'Madame, je suis désolé, there is no easy way to say this. There has been a sighting on the trails near the Parc de Merlet. Drone footage they have forwarded to me.'
I immediately thought of Leo. The Parc was an animal sanctuary. Leo could not get in—the fence was too high and electrified on top. But there was a breeding operation nearby for St Bernards. He might gravitate to the area. 'Has someone found my dog? You know about him, he—'
'Oui, Madame, we know about your dog. Everyone here does.'
'Good to know.' Sans tourists, Chamonix is a small town. The American wife of a Frenchman cannot fly under the radar in France, no matter how much she thinks she can. They watch discreetly, but they watch.
'He is the service dog for your hearing loss—that is correct?' 'That is correct.'
I had a cookie bite hearing loss, fairly rare, but it ran in my family. It was odd in that I could hear acutely at the top and bottom range of sound frequency. Birdsong woke me up in the morning. I could always hear the wind in the trees. A barking dog. A siren. Quite a lot of music. My issues were with mid-range frequencies. Which was most conversation. I could hear but not always catch the words, so I had to concentrate hard to understand. People with resonant voices were a blessing. Hearing aids helped. A lot. But turning up the volume meant I could hear the hum of a refrigerator in the next room as well as what people were trying to say. The technology was supposed to account for that, but, like most tech, it was way overrated. This Capitaine Brevard—he had the kind of voice that I could hear.
'We know that he is your special service animal. People have been aware of him. Mountain Rescue has been keeping watch. It must be difficult for you without your dog.'
'I do OK. It's just better with Leo.' People never quite got that hearing loss was not all or nothing or about volume control. That hearing dogs don't just alert you to sounds you need to hear or things you should pay attention to. They keep you engaged in the world. How easy it is, when you have to work hard to hear, to retreat to an inner world, where people are not impatient, do not give you annoyed or confused looks, do not talk down to you as if you are a child. Your dog gets you out in the world, encourages people to smile at you and keeps you from feeling isolated.
'I shouldn't have left him behind, but—'
'He had an issue with his leg, yes?
'He'd injured his psoas muscle; it's a chronic problem for him. The vet said a couple more weeks of rest in France would be best for him, so he stayed behind with Olivier. And I had to get back. There was a forensic accounting dispute between one of my high-dollar clients and a law firm, and I needed to be face to face for a deposition. But how did you know that?'
He paused. 'You told me this, Madame. The day I took you to the morgue to see your husband.'