205122 emails had actually arrived. 187312 had hit an e-mail program with activated html and bypassed the firewalls, on account of the included tag. 32412 had not been designated as spam. About 500 might have lead to marginal research. 2 had garnered deep interest.
This was unusual.
Alexandra Davenport squinted at the screen before him. The Anancient account. Re-reading what he'd written, he wondered what had made that one special. Could he have hit bulls-eye this time?
He composed another text, carelessly, merely to test the channel. Would the e-mails be bounced?
TO: McMacMac@TheNYPlanet.com; MalcWulf@BritishInterpreter.com
Jeanne d'Arc. Guy Fawkes.
Burning human beings is a nasty thing to do. And for once in history women have had equal treatment throughout history.
I'm your Venus. I'm your fire. Your desire. (Shocking Blue)"
Alex hit send and switched off the screen. Turning around in his swivel chair he glanced at the copy of Margaret Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa. Patterns began to emerge on his mind, but he couldn't bring himself to read. Instead, he walked towards the panorama window of his chateau and looked out at the Fjord. The glass reflected his breasts, flat for a female, but decidedly to big for a male. 12 years on, and he still couldn't come to terms with his condition.
He remembered little Sandy. How her Mommy told her, that she was named after Alexandra the Great. It had pleased her no end, to be named after someone Great. Until she found out there was no such person.
Alexander, the Great, however, existed.
She'd confronted Mommy with the confusion, but all she'd received was a wink and a "Wait until your first period." And little Sandy had smiled conspiratorily, and had waited for her first period.
It hadn't come.
Several years and doctors later, she learned about the reason. Ambiguous Genitalia. And a Y chromosome.
She... no... he was devastated. She... no... he stopped playing with the other girls. Stopped going to school. Demanded home tuition.
And when his... yes... his confusion finally settled, he'd confronted his Mother about Alexandra the Great. But his mother pretended not to know what he was talking about. She was a bad liar, but a dedicated one, and eventually Sandy gave up.
12 years on. Both parents dead in a car accident. No friends, no relatives. But a steady and not insubstantial income from a double life insurance on his parents side, and a small and compentently run business somewhere in New Zealand (sheep) had got him his present lodgings. If you were a misanthrope with a secret to uncover, a Norwegian Fjord was the place to be.
The placid waters calmed him, as always. His boyishly feminine male body was forgotten, Alexandra the Great nothing but a name. It was a gender thing. Let those with a functional Y chromosome fend for themselves. It had nothing to do with him.
Which is what Alexandra had told himself every day for the last 12 years.
Curiosity's a bitch.
May 9th, 2005, 02:14 PM
Two hours to kill before checking in an hour before flight time. Three hours in an airport no better and no worse than any other airport and they are all quite miserable places to spend time. Lucas Crown opted for the Red Lion thinking to attempt an English ale while he read his book. He’d brought with him Karen Armstrong’s A History of God. God and ale ought to make a decent relationship, he thought, but then changed his mind. The pub offered U.S. beer and that gentle reminder of home appealed to Lucas. He order a Sam Adams to go with his fish and chips.
Karen writes a good book, entertaining, page turners. Even so, pub chairs and lighting eventually argue against reading so Lucas returned the book to his briefcase. He contented himself with people watching.
A woman entered, professionally dressed, towing a case on wheels. Behind her followed a young man who could not seem to take his eyes from her. She seemed to Lucas to be in her late thirties though he freely admitted to himself that his estimation of women’s age always carried a plus/minus 30 years. She had auburn hair all tucked up nice and neat off her neck, piled high on her head. She wore spectacles of the type that old men used to wear for reading, very wide but very narrow in elevation, the kind that could slip down the bridge of the nose to allow one to gaze over their top. They come with a chain that goes around the wearer's neck assuring that when they fall - and they will fall - they will not hit the floor nor will they be lost.
She found a table, settled herself and her bag, and placed an order with the waitress. He found another table with a perfect view and, it seemed to Lucas more to rid himself of her attentions than to require any refreshment, also placed an order with the waitress.
The woman spent her time perusing her surroundings, noting with obvious displeasure the young man’s presence. She spied him, then moved on, examining other pub patrons, including Lucas Brown. Feeling recklessly confident after his recent encounter in Ireland, Lucas smiled brazenly. She deigned a brief smile in return but shifted her survey to the next party in line.
“Now, this is a classic case of unrequited love,” Lucas thought. “There he sits, a puppy dog kept at distance while the object of his affection ignores his existence. He will not move without encouragement and she will not offer the encouragement. How, then, will she disassociate herself?”
Lucas broke off his own examination of this couple to sweep the pub for other points of interest. Thus it was he missed the abrupt movement by the young woman who gathered her suitcase, stepped to the waitress for a few words, and the proceeded in Lucas’ direction. His first intimation that she had moved was the ambiance of her perfume which drew his attention to the woman standing before him. She smelled of Cachet No. 5, a favorite of Lucas from his younger days.
“Could you help a woman in some distress, sir?” she said in a voice soft, creamy, almost inaudible in the pub’s wash of sound.
“And how might I do that?” Lucas asked.
“Allow me to join you while I wait for my flight. You see the man over there who will not remove his gaze from me? I need to discourage him. Another man such as yourself ought to do the trick.”
“Well, then, please be seated. He’s not dangerous is he?”
“No, just infatuated. One night and he now believes he owns me or has right of first refusal on my soul or some such rot.”
“One night?” It was rude question, Lucas knew, but it burst from his mouth before he realized it had.
“Overnight, Toronto to Paris. Got bored. Drank more than I should. A routine but unflattering story, I know.”
“Paris? You’re on your way to Paris?”
“Yes, I am. You?”
“Also Paris. BA in two hours.”
“Coincidence is too much. I’m on the same flight.”
“Lucas Brown,” he said offering his hand.
“Aberewa Katzen, Abby to my firneds.”
“Then I’ll be your friend. I’ll never remember Aberewa.”
The waitress brought Aberewa’s order, a gin and tonic, as well as her own order of fish and chips. Eating diluted the conversation, permitting only “business, museums, ancient history” to pass between them. It made for a pleasant, time-cos\nsuming conversation, as well as affording plenty fo time for each to study the other.
She was mature, confident, and a little more aggressive than Lucas was comfortable with. Her suit was conservative, the blouse hiding more than exposing breasts Lucas thought might be on the smallish side. She wore a spray of color at her throat, a blue scarf that performed the transition from deeply tanned skin to white blouse and silver gray suit.
Lucas watched her perform a similar assessment. He had on slacks and a sweater, no tie. Lucas hated ties, wore them only circumstances refused him any other option. Flying to Paris was not such a circumstance. Lucas was pale in comparison to Aberewa. He didn't get out much except for an occasional round of golf and he tended to burn quickly and fade just a quickly back to pale. He had brown eyes, brown hair with the first hints of gray rearing their ugly heads. He was no more a male model than she was a female version. Both carried more weight than the runways approved but she carried it better than he did.
When the last chip disappeared from Lucas' plate, BA was announcing their flight. As they strolled together to their gate, Lucas noticed the young man followed them but at a reasonable distance.
“Is he going to Paris as well?”
“He said that he was going to the south of Spain, I forget where.”
“Good. Would hate to have him breathing down our necks on the flight to Paris.”
Aberewa laughed at the thought as well.
May 18th, 2005, 09:18 AM
Charles de Gaulle Airport, Terminal 1, was its usual madhouse but, then, all airports seem madhouses these days. Increased security simply compounds an under-funded, overworked global transportation system. Lucas fantasized again on the need for teleportation. Forget about stars being our destination, how about fixing this New York to Paris trip first?
Customs with Gallic charm and no choice in who pats you down. Another area open for improvement. If someone must put their hands on his body, why couldn’t it be an attractive someone instead of this ninety-year old refugee from the Foreign Legion?
Passing through to the central elevators, noticing the sign for the McDonalds, Lucas amused himself thinking that if the U.S. was going to export something from the its culture, we could not have made a better choice than hamburgers. What else is more American than hamburgers? On the other hand, this being France, Lucas was reminded of the marketing disaster McDonald’s had experienced when they first penetrated the Quebec market. Seems Big Macs has another meaning in Quebec.
Abby had experienced her own discomfort in the customs ritual so that she was late joining him as he descended to the baggage claim. Seems there had been a small army of volunteers willing to pat her down, admirers from both sexes. Lucas didn’t blame them but refrained from telling Abby his opinion.
“Where did you say you were staying?” Abby asked.
“On the Left Bank, a small hotel, on an expense account you know.” Lucas grinned at the paradox of flying first class while staying at lesser hotels. “It’s the Saint Thomas D’Aquin. How about you, where are you staying?”
”With friends in the city,” Abby answered. “How are you getting there?”
“Cab. I loathe trains and buses. Want to have time to think and not bustle with crowds.”
“Good. Would you care to share the fare or would I make too many people in one vehicle for your tastes?”
Lucas grinned at the sarcasm. “Would love your company,” he said.
Baggage retrieved, cab engaged, the two rode the 60 minutes into central Paris in relaxed comfort, the cab driver affording them privacy, a tribute more to Abby’s presence than usual custom. Abby guided the conversation, finally exhibiting natural curiosity in what brought Lucas to Paris.
“Chasing a story,” Lucas said. “Seems to be a connection here in Paris. I have a name from the 18th century, a Julie Jeanne ElEonore de Lespinasse, as a matter of fact. How she fits into the real story is a mystery that I am just beginning to get a feel for.”
“Not yet. Let me finish the piece before I tell you about that. Am never comfortable talking about a story in work. Don’t know why. Superstitious, I guess.”
Abby let it go, returned to Lespinasse. “What are you looking for with this 18th Century Julie?”
“Not real certain,” Lucas admitted. “Found a lead that pointed to her and thought it worth investigating. You know anything about her.”
Lucas was watching the scenery more than Abby so he missed the grin that struggled to remain hidden. “Oh, a bit,” Abby said. “She was one of a long line of ladies who involved themselves in the ideas of their day.”
That reply moved Lucas attention away from the window to Abby. “Ideas of their day?”
“They ran salons, you see, where the great and powerful dropped in for conversation. They’d discuss work in progress or ideas for work or just ideas. The more successful the salon, the more prestigious the clientele.”
“And you said there was a long line of such ladies?”
“I seem to remember it that way. It’s been a while since I studied the subject, you know. It was just a week or two in my third year in college and that has been a while.”
“Couldn’t have been more than five years ago,” Lucas smiled.
“Ah, the gallantry of the French is already rubbing off on you, I see.”
“Simple honesty, ma’am.”
“Anyway, I think the roots of the salon phenomena go back quite a ways from the 18th century.”
“How far back?”
“A century or two, I think.” Her brows knitted in the concentration of retrieving specific tidbits of data from her memory. In a bit, she shook her head as if to clear that search engine. “Sorry, can’t remember more specifics than that.”
The conversation drifted from that topic to the scenery around them as they moved into central Paris. Abby seemed familiar with the place, was able to identify many places they passed as well as pointing out a restaurant here and there that she would recommend.
“How many years have you lived in Paris?”
“No you don’t, sir. You don’t determine my age by clever subterfuge.” Abby laughed as she answered.
“You see through me again,” Lucas laughed with her. Inside, he came alert. That was an innocent question, yet she dodged answering it. Lucas’ reporter’s instincts kicked in. Here was a woman with something to hide?
“We’re nearing my destination, “ Abby said. “Another few blocks and we’re there.”
“Can I see you again?” Lucas said, more interested now that he thought he was on to something than he had been when she had been a possible sightseeing companion. Ruefully, Lucas admitted to himself that the thought of progressing to another level had occurred to him but he had dismissed it. A simple meeting of travelers did not require assignation except in mystery novels.
Abby seemed genuinely taken aback as if the idea had never crossed her mind. “Well…” she stammered, “I’m quite busy the next day or so. How long will you be in Paris?”
“Don’t really know. A day or so for certain. Depending on how things go, could be longer.”
The afternoon sun lowered in the west casting intriguing shadows in the cab. Lucas could barely make out Abby’s eyes but they seemed to be rapt in rapid calculations, pros and cons appearing to be accepted and or rejected in world-record time.
“You say you’re staying at the Saint Thomas D’Aquin? How about if I call you tomorrow evening and let you know my schedule?”
“I cannot complain at that,” Lucas said. “I understand you have a life. I enjoy your company is all. Just hoping to talk to you again.”
“I’ll try. I’ll really try,” she said. “I just do not want you to have too high expectations.”
As she left the cab, she handed Lucas $25€. “My share,” she said. Lucas’ first inclination was to decline the offer but he quickly overruled his impulse. When treating folk equally, it’s best to accept them on their terms, not yours. If she wished to demonstrate personal responsibility by offering to pay her share, it would be unforgivably rude to not accept. He would have paid for a male guest as well as a female but that wasn’t the issue here. The issue, he suspected, was independence.
Lucas watched Abby tip the driver after he had retrieved her luggage from the boot. This was France, you know. They don’t have trunks like good U.S. cars do; they have boots. She moved away into her apartment building, he supposed, and he wrote down the address. A woman with something to hide, eh? Sometime, when he had an hour or so to kill, he’d try to unravel this mystery.
May 24th, 2005, 02:56 PM
Lucas spent the next day in research, wandering for an hour the Musee D’Orsay not because it might contain something to do with Julie Lespinasse, (it did, a water color portrait) but because of its proximity to his hotel. He took a cab past the Louvre for the same reason but declined the opportunity – no, he declined the effort of examining that landmark despite the curiosity generated he experienced from reading The DaVinci Code.
He traveled instead to Rue de Belle Chasse to walk the street where Julie Lespinasse had lived, her apartment secured by Jean d'Alembert and furnished by the Marechale de Luxembourg. Here in the 1760s her salon had flourished emerging as a venture in free thought and expression with its gatherings of wit, artistry and intelligence. Not merely a site for the exercise of freedoms independent of the State, or for the sheer entertainment of her guests nor for the opportunity to arrange academy membership and sponsorship, nor for the perfecting of the art of conversation. Her salon provided all these ends as well as setting the stage for social and political gain. More importantly, her salon functioned as an arena for the bringing together ideas and people, a common ground in which projects and works were not only displayed but seriously contended for change and implementation.
All this information sits available on the internet; Lucas had perused it on his flight from New York. What he hoped to find here in the real world remained only the vaguest notion hidden deep in his subconscious.
He grinned to himself as he “sashayed” down the Rue de Belle Chasse thoroughly enjoying the feel of the English derivation of its French root. His grin produced empathetic grins from fellow ambulates so that even the overcast day could not dampen his spirits. The grinned faded as he passed 45, Rue de Belle Chasse. His expression now reflected the rapid fire associations flitting through his mind. What was it that had mystified him so in Canada? The school of indirect influence, that was what he had called it. It made sense. It made so much sense that the course of his investigation became even more clear. From the salons of France to where next? He did not know the answer but it would not be difficult to learn. The internet is an amazing reference library.
On his journey back to the hotel, Luca pondered the coincidence. It was coincidence, of course. Nothing more. It could not be anything more, could it? The Rue de Belle Chasse serving as a constant in the millennial exercise?
It was a day of contrasts. Lucas walked the hall to his hotel room diverted by the fact that Aquinas had also lived and worked on the left bank, half a millennium before Julie Lespinasse, to be certain, but still he had lived and worked here. Half sarcastically, Lucas wondered for a moment if there was something in the earth that stimulated reason. Aquinas’ work influenced the logical underpinning that supported the Catholic Church up until 1962 when the Vatican Council did it in. Well, they’d thought they’d done it in but Aquinas would not go softly into the night. John Paul II brought him back loudly and resoundingly in 1998 with Fides et Ratio. Lespinasse’ influence was so much more difficult to identify yet the fact that men such as Diderot, Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Rousseau joined d'Alembert in her salon spoke volumes of the influence of which she was capable. .Again, the geographical co-location of Aquinas and Lespinasse perplexed Lucas’ thoughts.
Then, as he entered his room, his phone rang. Abby called to say she was free and what would he like to do? His mind put the day’s information on a back burner to percolate as it might while he concentrated on the more decipherable mystery of Abby Katzen. “Dinner?” he suggested. She agreed. “Where and when?” he asked.
May 24th, 2005, 02:57 PM
“I believe this place must have begun life as a residence. The growth and popularity of the Left Bank forced it into manual labor and now it serves as a fine little restaurant.” Abby played the tour guide as they disembarked from the cab. Lucas paid the fare as the official host for the evening’s affair though Abby had selected the destination, the Restaurant Vueve Noire. “A friend brought me here one night when I was feeling homesick. The cuisine satisfied my need for familiar things and helped me to perk up again,” she explained.
“I don’t know which question to ask first,” Lucas laughed. “The one about the cuisine or the one about your current state of nostalgia.” “Oh, I’m not nostalgic at all. In fact, after today’s headline, I’m less homesick than ever. But, I do like the cuisine.”
Passing through the front door into what must have once been a grand entryway but was now the bar, Lucas managed to ask: “the cuisine?” to be answered by a female maitre d’: “Afrique.” It was apparent that Lucas did not hear the woman clearly and Abby laughed at his muttered observation that this would be his first experience eating freaky food. Abby assumed control of the conversation realizing Lucas spoke no French. A quick exchange sent the maitre d’ ahead leading the way through the former living room, now host to six tables, down a small hall into a former bedroom where five tables presented themselves. Four were small, capable of providing for parties of four or less while the center table currently accommodated a party of seven. It was capable of serving eight.
Led to the far corner, Abby took the chair with her back to the corner walls which placed Lucas with his back to the room at large. Abby grinned as he took his chair. “Now, my friend, you must concentrate all your attention on me while I can peruse the room at my leisure.” When Lucas was settled, the maitre d’ handed both menus, said something formulaic, and retreated from view. She watched Lucas’ quick glance confirm his suspicion the menu was in French and then he placed it atop his place setting and smiled back at Abby.
“You order, please,” Lucas said, “but, I’d appreciate some warning of what I am in for.”
Despite herself, Abby smirked. She had the advantage and knew it and could not refrain from enjoying it just a bit though she thought herself a bit rude to do so. “It’s what comes from being escorted by arrogant men,” she thought, “an urge to retaliate. But this one has not been arrogant, does not deserve the treatment.”
“We’ll start out with hors d’ oeuvres, a sampler plate of Biltong, boerewors, and droewors. From there, we’ll have a lentil soup and then, we’ll finish with cassavas and a chicken stew. To make it just a little bit more different, from the land of milk and honey we’ll have some Tej.”
“Will I be able to stomach this Tej?” Lucas asked, his expression cast on doubt on the answer before it was rendered.
“You Americans are terrified of anything different, aren’t you?”
“I don’t know that it’s a cultural trait; I think most folk get a little apprehensive when faced with new foods.”
“An argument that supports your current feelings, yes?”
Lucas grinned ruefully.
“At any rate, it is a honey wine and very good and will not twist your tender innards. Now, tell me about your day.”
So Lucas told her. She listened attentively as if his words were the most important event in her life, as he described the things he discovered and the thoughts they produced. He seemed to hesitate as he reached the conclusion of his tale as if there was more to tell but he was choosing not to tell it. Before Abby could phrase her question, Lucas ended his story with a question to her: “Enough about me,” he said, “your turn arrives. Tell me about this headlines that makes you less nostalgic.”
“It read ‘South African woman killed by partner every 6 hours: study.’ The article described a study recently completed that showed 1,349 women murder by an intimate partner in 1999 and that 40% per cent of the cases never made it to trial.”
The hors d’oeuvres arrived, delivered by a young man with hair flying in dread locks in all directions, a ring on his eyebrow, and the broadest smile the world has ever seen. Neither Abby nor Lucas attempted to talk as he arranged the plate, moving the floral centerpiece off the table to be whisked away by his smaller twin, re-settling water glasses. He was fussy but courteous and very thorough. At length, he satisfied himself with his preparations, bowed, smiled even wider than before and departed.
“You’ll have to forgive me, please,” Lucas began, an impish smile lurking around his eyes. “Did you say the headline read ‘woman killed by partner every six hours? Wouldn’t once have been enough?”
Abby laughed despite herself. But the laugh disappeared as quickly as it had arrived. “Almost I went to graduate school to study these kind of things,” she said. “I chose not to and, today at least, I am happy with my choice.”
“Where’d you got to school?”
“The University of Cape Town. I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Humanities. They have a fine graduate school with a program on Gender Studies that I seriously considered trying. At the last moment, I balked.”
“And did what?”
“I took a job with a travel agent. My specialty is large groups touring exotic places. The perks are great. They get me to exotic places. For example, I am here on the bonus earned from send a group of ninety-year old widows off to Club Med.”
“You didn’t!” Lucas gasped, nearly spitting out the bite of boerewor just inserted into his mouth.
“I did. I truly did. They indicated they wanted something young-at=heart so I gave them their fantasies.”
“You are a vicious person!” Lucas said but his tome said just the opposite.
“They will have more fun then they may have experienced their entire lives. When they arrive home, they will have more lies to tell than ever before and their conversations will no longer be restricted to health and dying. What more could they ask?”
Abruptly, Lucas changed the subject, returning to the earlier topic. “Why did the article upset you so?”
“The men and women aspect, why I was attracted to the Masters Program in the first place. What is it that makes it so contentious? I truly want to know.”
“Most of us would like to know the answer to that. I know that I would.”
“Why murder? Why kill your wife?”
“It said ‘intimate partner,’ right? So, it’s more than just wives.”
“Yes, and the article did say it was more common in the working classes.”
“You know,” Lucas said, “it fits in a weird sort of way with things that have come to my attention. There’s a book I read trying to understand the Middle East. It was written by Geraldine Brooks and it’s called Nine Parts of Desire….”
“I’ve read it, too,” Abby interrupted.
“The upshot of that book is that women are the root of all evil. Your headline implies the same thing, doesn’t it?”
The thought hung between them as the waiter re-appeared. He and his aide removed the hors d’oeuvre plate replacing it with a tureen of soup. The waiter ladled two bowls presenting the first to Abby and then serving Lucas. With their plates before, he bowed and disappeared.
“It does, doesn’t it?” Abby agreed. As if the problems the partners face became so unbearable they required action, any kind of action. Mostly, they required someone to fix the blame upon. The women were the handiest excuse.”
“That’s my story,” Lucas said. He said it so softly that Abby wasn’t certain she heard him correctly. She raised an eyebrow in query.
“That’s my story,” Lucas repeated, then added: “That’s the story I’m working on. How did it come to this?”
“You’re writing a story on the war between men and women?”
“No, I’m writing a story on why things changed.”
“I’m not certain that I am following you.”
She listened while Lucas explained the e-mail that triggered his assignment, the facts he had discovered since, and the implications he had begun to draw. Then, he shocked her.
“I was beginning to believe there is a conspiracy operating and that you are part of it.”
“A conspiracy? Me? What kind of conspiracy?”
“I don’t know. Talking to you now, I am less certain than I was. When you avoided answering my question about how long you had lived in Paris, I didn’t interpret it as a coy refusal to tell how old you are. I took it as you had something to hide. I wanted to know what that was.”
Abby laughed a little loudly at the thought of her being part of a great conspiracy. Some folk at the cter table turned to consider her. Finding nothing too interesting in the couple in the corner, they quickly returned to their own dinners, their own conversation.
“Why a conspiracy?”
“Coincidences pile up. Take for example, I came here because of Julie Lespinasse. I told you that. She lived on Rude de Belle Chasse. I told you I walked that street today. Do you know what I found?”
“I have no idea,” Abby answered.
“The United Nations Development Fund for Women’s National Committee for France.”
“You know of it?”
“Had to know of it. Would know more if I had pursued my Masters Degree.”
“What do they do?”
“It’s a central funding agency for financial and technical assistance to women’s programs.”
“What kind of women’s programs?”
“Social programs, human rights, political participation, economic security. That kind of thing.”
“Building women’s influence then?”
“Curious isn’t it? What a wonderful coincidence that an organization dedicated to increasing women’s influence is sited on the street of one of history’s more influential women.”
“You’re thinking it isn’t a coincidence, aren’t you?”
“And you’re trying to read my mind.”
The main course arrived necessitating a break in the conversation. Abby used the time to organize her thoughts. She concluded that Lucas was on to something. What it might be she didn’t know. But she was developing a certainty she wanted to be involved.
May 31st, 2005, 09:18 AM
The after dinner drinks arrived. Lucas had Drambuie, Abby opted for a crème d’menthe, which prompted Lucas to wonder if, perhaps, this might be yet another example of the difference in the hard wiring of men and women. “Women always seem to prefer the sweet drinks. Men seem to go the other direction.”
“Hadn’t thought of it in those terms, but you may be on to something.”
That brought them back to the topic.
“Where are you headed next? With your research I mean and can you use a volunteer.”
It startled Lucas and his expression displayed the fact as if a theater billboard.
“You’ve piqued my interest, Lucas, and I’d like to join in.”
“I don’t know how long this will take or where it will take me, Egypt, for certain, since that's where it all started. But, I cannot begin to guess where else I’ll go.” His expression turned sheepish. “And I have to tell you my beloved newspaper is not going to spring for a research assistant on this one.”
“They will not be willing to subsidize the expense.”
“Oh, bugger yourself! My expenses are my own. That’s a given.” With that topic closed, Abby returned to the larger debate. “It was my speciality, you know, women’s history. For example, you’ve been on the trail of Jean Lespinasse but she was an inheritor of a proud tradition. The first recorded salon was managed by Madame de Rambouillet at her Hotel de Rambouillet. She entertained men such as Balzac, Volatire, and Richelieu.”
“About what year?”
“The first part of the 17th century, 1610 through about 1640, perhaps.”
“So, we continue to move further back into history. Who was this Madame de Rambouillet?”
“My memory, Lucas, is very good but it has been a while since I studied this topic and I may have scrambled a few facts here and there.”
“We’ll double check them when the need arises. I’m looking now for hooks into the deeper past.”
“Her name was Catherine de Vivonne; she was Italian. I remember her family were artists, the Strozzis and the Savellis.”
“What kind of artists?”
“Painters. A lot of portraits but a few other works. Now, that is the limit of memory and we’ll need a computer to go further. I have one in my room at my friend’s place.”
“And I have one in my hotel room.” Lucas was unsuccessful in hiding the smirk.
“Men!” Abby sighed. "Even when they are involved in a mystery, they cannot stray far from sex.”
Affecting to be insulted, Lucas protested that he had not mentioned any such thing. Abby simply smiled tolerantly.
“Okay, it crossed my mind. Hotel rooms and beautiful women will do that to me.”
“A compliment? Was that a compliment? How quaintly you delivered it!”
Thoroughly embarrassed, Lucas replied that he was more than willing to go to her place if it made her feel more secure. Abby laughed. “The place is empty. My friend is in Switzerland doing something with someone about which I was not at all interested.”
The more Lucas thought about it, the less inclined he became to spend the night on the computer. He flagged the waiter down to request the check and to call a cab.
“I’ll tell you what, Abby. Let’s continue this tomorrow. You get some sleep; I’ll get some sleep and we’ll be fresh and rarin’ to go.”
“My apartment scares you?” Her look was incredulous but her tone carried the full blast of an imp at play.
Lucas laughed aloud. “It ought to. But, it doesn’t. I just need some sleep and I’m not on any kind of immediate deadline so I can afford to wait a few hours before diving back in. Let’s continue the research tomorrow.”
“Very well, monsieur, but I am wondering if I should now be offended.”
Still laughing, Lucas told Abby she could stop now. His ego was adequately massaged and they could go about their business. Lucas put Abby in her cab, allowing an affectionate peck on his cheek, attributing it to nothing more than continental manners. As her cab drove away, he shook himself as if willing his mind to return to focus from the distractions of the evening.
“Awfully quick to volunteer, wasn’t she?” he asked himself. “I’m an irresistible man, I know, but for even my powers of attraction she succumbed in record time. More here than meets the eye, I’m sure, but what more and what is it after?
“I suppose I won’t know till the game plays out.
"I do love games.”
His walk back to his hotel was uneventful giving him time to review the evening and put it into place with all the rest he had learned. Women of influence. Not woman in control but women influencing men, important men. There was a thread developing here, from the Women’s Institute back through history. He could almost see the story he was after.
When the knock on the door finally brought him from sleep, Lucas first looked at the clock beside his bed. It read 6:30A.M. The rising sun was peeking though the drapes in his room but Lucas’ body was not ready to admit the day had begun. He rolled over in the bed, burying his head in the pillow but it could not dampen the pounding on the door.
“All right,” he muttered, then increased his volume, “ALL RIGHT! I’m coming.”
She was a vision of freshness, perky, alert, enthusiastic, thoroughly disgusting.
“What the hell are you doing?” he asked.
“I’m ready to get to work.” She moved into his room without invitation. “Go take a shower. I’ll order breakfast and get your laptop fired up.”
Lucas stood at the door using it to prop his still uncooperative body. “Do you know what time it is?”
“Certainly. You’re late rising this morning, eh? No problem. None at all. Just get yourself presentable, please. Wouldn’t want to shock the hotel staff.”
It dawned on Lucas he was standing in an open door in his briefs. He closed the door, scratched an itch on the top of his head and then, as he crossed the floor to his suitcase, he scratched an itch on his scrotum. Realizing what he’d done, he looked guiltily over his shoulder to discover Abby on the phone, apparently looking out the window, talking to the kitchen. Her French rattled off like a woodpecker in full hunt on a birch tree.
He found a change of underwear, pants, and a shirt and wandered into the bathroom. Shaving returned him to a sense of normalcy. The shower fueled his mind so that by the time he emerged from the bathroom he was ready to deal with the world, especially the Abby segment thereof.
“What’s your password?” she asked.
“I’ll put it in,” he said. And he did so.
June 2nd, 2005, 10:35 AM
Lucas finished his morning ritual while Abby’s finger flew across the keyboard. “I’m remembering a site from my college days,” she told him. “It will make a great point of departure.”
The door bell rang so all investigation ceased while breakfast was delivered. Abby had ordered Eggs Benedict for herself and a poached egg for Lucas. There was sweet bread and orange juice and coffee though the European taste in coffee did little to tempt to Lucas.
As they ate, they talked about the investigation.
“There’s an internet site that is perfect for this kind of thing,” Abby said. “It’s a history speciality but it has a focus that we can use. Fordham University supports the site.”
“What do you have in mind?”
“You’re looking for what changed from 1500B.C, right? You think some major event forced women into the background of history and you’re trying to find the catalyst. Well, this is at least a place to start.”
“Okay,” Lucas agreed. “Bring it up.”
Abby keyed in the information and watched the sourcebook display. She scrolled down the screen to Early Modern Europe and selected Paris Salons of the 18th Century. The articles displayed.
Lucas scanned the articles, then objected that they said very little, that he had found more on his own and he hit his favorites tab. From the menu he selected The Women of the French Salons by Amie Gere Mason. Chapter XV. “Here,” he said, ‘is my source.”
Taking back the keyboard, Abby selected Chapter II. “And here.” she said, “is the information I remembered about Madame de Rambouillet. See the reference to her family? That’s what I could not recall in detail.”
“Strozzi and Savelli. I’ll admit the names rings no bells for me.”
“Nor for me. But, before we go that direction let me take you back to something that you may find interesting.”
Abby backed the display to Modern European Sourcebook. Under Women’s Oppression, she selected John Knox’ First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women. “I remember this tract well. Knox was a central figure in the Scottish Reformation and here he was railing against Mary, Henry VIII’s daughter who assumed the throne. He’s railing against Mary because she was a papist but to make his point, he proves that god does not want any women to be placed in charge of anything.”
Lucas scanned the article marveling at the vitriolic use of the bible to make point after point. “Look at the publication date,” he said. “1588. That ought to have been available to Catherine de Vivonne by the time she established her salon.”
“From Geneva to Paris in 30 years seems likely.”
“And no one challenged this?”
Abby scrolled down the display. “Margaret Fell did. But, it was much too late for Catherine to have seen it.” She selected the entry and the two briefly scanned Fell’s rebuttal using the same bible but different texts to soundly refute Knox’s arguments.
“Whereby we can conclude the battle raged in early modern Europe. Fell takes an active role; Catherine de Vivonne takes a passive role. Active roles earn the enmity and disdain of the men running the societies; passive roles earn their admiration. The model is set even as it is today. So, we need to take it further back.”
Abbys fingers played the keyboard.
“Where are you looking?”
“I’m following Catherine’s trail. Here’s Bernado Strozzi, a contemporary of Catherine’s. a painter. Ah, here we go, Zanobi Strozzi. A generation before Catherine, a painter, and somewhat of a mystery.”
“Really, what’s the mystery?”
“One of his more famous works is a birth plate. Families presented these to women about to delier or just recently given birth. They usually had food on them.”
“What’s different with this one?
“Seems it was originally a twelve-sided plate but now has just eight sides. And the subject matter is also a bit off for the genre. Birth plates usually treated amusing subjects; can’t upset pregnant women, you know.” Abby smiled sardonically at that statement but the smile disappeared as she continued. “This one depicts the abduction of Helen by Paris, a strange topic for a pregnant woman to consider. What’s more, everyone in the painting seems to be happy at the prospect.”
“That fits what I remember of the event. She was enthralled with Paris and happy to be trotted off to Troy.”
“That description could just as well be a Homeric apology for a bad mistake.”
“Isn’t that stretching things a bit?”
“Maybe. We must rely on a poet for the story and poets, like historians, lie.”
“So, Strozzi paints Helen enjoying her abduction…”
“And the birth plate is reduced to eight sides.”
“Was something removed?”
“Or was something added?”
Lucas thought about that for a minute. The only additional information was the new number of sides for the plate. Since eight was a non-standard number of sides for birth plates, was someone trying to convey some information? About Helen?
“Why eight?” he asked.
“Not a numerologist, Lucas. Never could work up the energy to figure it out.”
“Neither am I,” Lucas said. “What about the idea of the octagon itself?”
“Needs study, I guess. There definitely seems to be a message being sent to someone about something. No other likely reason for the subject matter and the physical alteration of the plate.”
“Or are we blinding ourselves with trivia simply because the painter’s name is Strozzi?”
“Well, let’s try Savelli.”
Once again, Abby’s fingers danced on the keyboard. Displays came and went as she rejected most, followed a few through to some conclusions. “A pope,” she announced, “13th century, Cencio Savelli. Organized one of the crusades.”
“Doesn’t seem to fit.”
“Maybe not," Abby said while her fingers continued manipulating the keyboard. "Here’s an interesting one but maybe not because it fits with what we’re after. Seems a relative of Catherine’s, Vittoria, died in flagrante delecto. She and her husband’s brother seemed to have been caught in the act and murdered to restore the Savelli honor.”
‘You’re right, it’s interesting but doesn’t seem to fit. I’ve been thinking about that octagon. I remember from somewhere that there is some mythical significance to octagons, just as there is to triangles and squares and circles. Look up ‘octagon,’ please.”
Minutes passed. Lucas watched Abby’s expression change from tolerance to sudden interest to startlement.
“Labyrinths,” she announced. “Octagons are associated with labyrinths. And early churches contained labyrinths. The church at Reims had an octagonal labyrinth when it was consecrated in 1241. And, it’s construction was begun in 1210.”
“And Honorius was named pope in 1213. We may have labyrinth symbology connected to the Savelli family as well as explicit in the Strozzi family. Next stop: Reims.”
June 5th, 2005, 02:25 PM
Ed was down right confused now. It wasn’t the topic matter, that he’d found a lead for off the internet on his home computer the first night, it was clear to see he’d proved himself suitably idiotic to shake some of Lois’s attention but when thrown the ultimate gambit, a date with himself, she accepted. For someone who he had lusted after since she joined the office, yet hadn’t paid him a bit of notice, the change was too dramatic. Something was up and it wasn’t just uncontrollable parts of his anatomy. All night she had spent being the ultimate date, she laughed at his non-jokes, playfully touched his arm, stared adoringly at him with those big, blue eyes of her’s whilst exposing acres of bosom and even let him touch her bum. It was everything he hoped for but also a sure sign something was definitely crooked. But what? He claimed to be a reporter, this should be something he could wiggle out of the relevant information.
Begin at the beginning, that’s what he’d been taught. Find the origin event that gestated the timeline by following the timeline backwards from the now. Ok.
1.) The now is a date with a gorgeous girl-next-door-type who works as the boss’s assistant in the paper.
Problem: romantic involvement (at a stretch Ed thought this may qualify in that category) with a colleague was banned. She was at risk because assistants were ten pence a dozen. Second; assistants came in two types pretty and dumb or pretty dumb. Anyone with any more intelligence, than that required for an assistant’s job, got a better job. Anyone who qualified as more than pretty got a better job. Lois was both.
0.) Prior to the arranged date she had been exceedingly helpful with even his most ludicrous requests for materials regarding the Heraeum temple. In part this had been a test, he actually wanted to do this case right and get one over on Mike for stiffing him out of the Jamaica idea, but the more and more pliable Lois became the more his suspicion grew.
Problem: She should have reported him to the Wulfman for wasting company time and resources. Watching every episode of Xena and Hercules was taking the mouse even by his standards but she carried on regardless.
-1.) Before he got this assignment Lois had paid no attention to him. Ah-ha. So the assignment was the key. Was she checking up on him for Wulf? Was she secretly trying to stop him taking Mike’s place – he always thought there was something going on between those two – or option three, personal motives?
Option three disturbed him. Despite his few attempts to gain some knowledge about her during the last few days of close contact, he had been able to gleam only the most trivial of facts – and oddly enough, all facts that on any other date he would be happy to know; she wore red underwear, demanded to be on top and liked balding men (that should have sent the warning systems flashing!). There wasn’t much but if he could put it together something was nipping at him, right on the edge of awareness. Time for the suspect list, the cons of his assignment as his old lecturer had once mumbled:
1.) No personal information …
2.) Other than the juicy stuff no woman would tell a man on a first date; unless she was being paid or fancied him bad enough. Neither applied in this case.
3.) She’d shown him attention since he was given the assignment.
4.) She was too good for her job and tried to hide it.
5.) She wasn’t …. wearing a bra …
He blinked, rapidly. Dear god.
“Are you okay Ed?”
“Yeah sorry, my mind wandered for a minute there.”
It shouldn’t have, Lois thought, I was giving you an eyeful of my ample cleavage for long enough.
“Where was you mind wandering to?”
“Oh my days at university, I was trying to remember when the last time I was lucky enough to go on a date with a girl as gorgeous as yourself.”
“Awww bless,” that was a long time ago baldy, I’m surprised you can remember.
“You must have dated a few balding men at university?”
That set Lois back, what an odd question.
“As many as I could find, including my professors I am ashamed to admit.”
“That must have got you some good marks,” Ed winked.
Where is he going with this?
“I did well enough, it certainly didn’t do me any harm.”
“So where was it you went? I seem to remember the Wulfman saying something about South Africa?”
Clever bugger, he’s got me there. Better give him the cover.“The University of Cape Town. I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Humanities. They have a fine graduate school with a program on Gender Studies that I seriously considered trying. At the last moment, I balked.”
Again he stopped her, most .. scratch that, all the men she’d dated didn’t ask a follow-up question, even the nice ones.
“It was too expensive. Getting educated in another country is soooo expensive.”
She tried to add the ‘common’ element back into her speech, a known fact is that all women are great actresses, comes from plenty of practise with the letter O.
“Pity, I’m sure you could have gotten a better job as a post-grad.”
Lois was definitely uncomfortable now, he was prying into her life, never a good sign – inconsistencies could cost her.
“I guess so but c’est la vie I always say. Fancy another beer because I’d love another glass of red wine.”
“Sure, I’ll call the waiter over.”
“No, no it’s okay, I’ll get them from the bar. Same again?”
Result! As she sashayed away, leaving little to his already overflowing imagination, he held on to one thought. She had something to hide, something to do with the assignment
June 7th, 2005, 12:41 PM
Lucas rented the car but asked Abby to drive. He lacked the experience she had in driving Europe and decided it would be more pleasant to forego his manly prerogative and just enjoy the hour-and-a-half ride. They took the A4 out of Paris despite the 8.7€ tolls and drove through the wine country, over the Marne, and north into Reims. Abby booked them into the Grand Hotel des Templiers, separate rooms, which they found with little problem. Lucas attributed this to Abby’s skill, not his.
When they were not making small talk, Lucas’ mind took in the scenery. The place names on the road signs triggered random memories such as Cote d’ Blanc where the Chardonay grapes grow; then Chateau Thierry where the black grape, Meunier, grows. Crossing the Marne, nearing Reims, they traveled through Montagne de Reims where the Pinot Noir grape grows. You put the best of all these grapes, the vintage grapes, together and you can make a great champagne.
Lucas forgave himself for a momentary trek into madness recalling the difficulty most of his friends had pronouncing Pinot Noir, how they generally defaulted to a slang version that would affront most Frenchmen but just brought tears of laughter to U.S. faces: Pie Knot Knower. The phrase usually ran: “Fer sure, fer sure, good buddy, give me some o’ dat Pie Knot Knower.” He recognized such frivolity would be guaranteed to prove to the French – again – just how boorish he and his countrymen can be.
Settled into their rooms, they went out again in the afternoon to get their first close-up of the cathedral and the Musee Abbaye Saint Remi. The latter specializes in archeology, history, military history, and pre-history. They hoped to gain access to the files to discover whatever might be available concerning the labyrinth originally built into the cathedral but later destroyed. They met a member of the museum staff, M. Yves Clinton, chatted for a time, Abby’s fluency in French saving the day, offsetting the disadvantage Lucas incurred when identifying himself as a reporter from New York City.
When M. Clinton discovered their interest, he became interested as well. He prided himself, though it was not his major academic field, in a good knowledge of labyrinths. The three agreed to meet later that evening, at a restaurant of the staffer’s choice at their expense. This was more temptation than the man could resist.
Clinton sent Abby and Lucas off into the afternoon with the thought that the labyrinth is known world-wide, has apparently been known for as much as two centuries before Christ, and is always seen as an aid to meditation. So strong, so useful, so universally accepted, even the early church incorporated the device in its routine. “Imagine the first priests of the cathedral,”Yves said, “breviary in hand, stepping through the labyrinth. Or even the local gentry, they, too, could have made the journey on a regular basis, [perhaps using the lay breviary to aid the contemplation.”
“But, how would that work?” Lucas asked. The staffer demurred claiming the topic too intricate for a hallway chat. “Over supper,” he promised, grinning such that Lucas suspected the story depended upon delivery of the bribe. He smiled in return. “Which restaurant?” he asked.
“Café du Palais,” Yves answered, a broad smile on his face. Lucas thought he was being taken for a royal ride but refrained from saying so. Instead, he cordially assented. Through Abby, they set up the rendevous for 7P.M. Abby agreed to make the reservations.
At this point, there was little remaining to accomplish on this day. Abby and Lucas retuned to their hotel taking an hour or so to rest, recuperate, and dress for the evening.
June 16th, 2005, 11:04 AM
Abby and Lucas took the wall seat, sort of a half booth, allowing Clinton the chair and room to spread out. Lucas tried not to think about the implications of he and Abby sharing the same side of the table as if they might be a couple which, given the apparent age difference, made little sense. Pushing that line of thought aside, comfortable in his tourist role, Lucas gawked at the paintings and drawings gracing the walls. He contributed his order of a Manhattan to Clinton’s Side Car and Abby’s Ballet Russe, then wandered the restaurant admiring the art while the waiter secured the cordials.
At the table, Abby and Clinton performed the social amenities, the weather, her country of origin, his birth place. Lucas missed this conversation not at all returning only when he observed the bus boys preparing the salad cart.
“My favorite part of the dinner,” he announced, continuing when no one replied, “the construction of the Caesar Salad.” The busboys delivered the cart and the waiter simultaneously, at least the waiter seemed to be part of the apparatus. On the cart sat a wooden bowl large enough for salad for three. On a shelf below the work surface, another wooden bowl held a quantity of Romaine lettuce cut into 2 inch pieces. The waiter poured these contents into the large bowl.
From the second shelf he retrieved another bowl, a wooden soup bowl, and placed it on the cart’s working surface. Alongside he laid brightly shining beater. From the cart's deck, he retrieved ingredients, one at a time, pouring or shaking them into the soup bowl: Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, crushed clove, salt, ground pepper, capers, Dijon mustard. To these, he added a coddled egg using a beater to whisk the mixture until it sat smooth. The waiter grinned and displayed the concoction for his customers’ appreciation.
Now, placing the bowl back on the work surface, he slowly poured a cruet of virgin olive oil into the mixture, whisking the sauce the entire time he poured. This was a crucial step in the sauce’s preparation. Should he add the olive oil too quickly, the dressing would separate and fail to emulsify. This waiter performed the ceremony with precisely correct results.
He now poured half the sauce over the lettuce, then tossed the lettuce till each piece displayed a nice coating. In response to an imperious snapping of his fingers, a busboy delivered a freshly prepared bowl of croutons which the waiter poured over the incipient salad, adding Parmesan cheese and the rest of the sauce. Again, he tossed till all solid ingredients carried a coat of the sauce. He now prepared a serving for each of the trio.
Talking during this ritual is rude so the three refrained from doing so. Instead, they each devoted their attention to the waiter’s efforts while they coated their palates with their drink of choice. With the salad before them, the waiter placed the bowl with its remaining contents on a side table and departed. “When I was younger,” Lucas said, “the quality of a restaurant, its reputation, could be made or destroyed by their waiter’s ability to mix a Caesar Salad.”
“At times, it has been so in Paris,” Clinton replied, “but no as much these days, I’m afraid.”
“Perhaps because it is a Mexican creation?”
“No, because fast food is the order of the day. Few these days want to spend an evening dining out.”
“The decline and fall of civilization, I suppose,” Lucas said. Abby laughed but did not comment. Instead, she worked on her salad.
“Now, about the labyrinth,” Lucas prompted.
“Ah, monsieur, there are many interpretations and all carry a taste of truth. It is like your taste in salads. You prefer – and I, for one, concur – that Caesar is par excellence. But, the common garden salad owns its share of advocates. And the Italians! The good Lord knows the Italians make a religion of their salads.”
“So, the labyrinth here at Reims?”
“An octagon, monsieur, an octagon.” Clinton reached into his jacket pocket retrieving a single sheet of paper. “Here is an artist’s conception of how it must have appeared. Notice the corners and the center each contain an image. The outer images are said to have been images of the four architects in charge of the build over the fifty years of the church’s construction: Jean d'Orbais, Jean Leloup, Gaucher de Reims and Bernard de Soissons.”
Abby finally stopped enjoying her salad long enough to ask: “Why your emphasis on octagon, monsieur?”
Clinton had taken advantage of the interruption to enjoy another bite of his own salad and he chewed it appreciatively before swallowing and he swallowed before he answered Abby’s question.”
“Ah, mademoiselle, the octagram has many meanings whether you are in the eastern or the western hemispheres of this world. You find octagons in the trigrams of the I Ching, the pagan wheel of the year, and even in the Ogdoad.”
“Okay, I admit it,” Lucas laughed, “I have no clue to what the Ogdoad is.” Clinton laughed in sympathy with Lucas’ admission. “ The Ogdoad, monsieur, is the name given for the 8 deities in the Egyptian pantheon that preceded the sun god, Re. In fact, they helped create the sun god. The 8 gods that make up the Ogdoad are: Amon and Amaunet, Heh and Hehet, Kek and Keket, Nun and Naunet, seen as a set of four couples. Let's just say that the Ogdoad - as a constellation of gods and goddesses - represents infinity.”
The waiter appeared at this point with the busboy tailing him pushing another cart covered with a fine lace cloth. On the cloth sat three wine glasses, a wine bucket, and a bottle opener. Conversation ceased while the waiter presented the bottle he carried, a 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, and then opened it. He decanted a bit into a glass that he presented to Lucas. The busboy cleared the cordial glasses while, smiling self-consciously, Lucas performed the ritual, holding the glass to the light, sniffing the aroma, tasting a small sip. He discovered nothing amiss and nodded his approval to the waiter. Glasses filled and presented to both Abby and Clinton, the waiter filled Lucas’ glass. Then he, the busboy, and the cart disappeared.