“Pairs, male and female. Why was that?” Abby asked.
“You go beyond my expertise, mademoiselle,” Clinton laughed. “I thought we were here to discuss labyrinths.”
“Agreed,” Lucas said. “This Reims labyrinth then was octagonal. What was its purpose?”
“As we talked this afternoon, monsieur, to aid in meditation. It has thus been so in every age and every corner of our world. Let me give you an example. There is a school that believes there is a journey associated with labyrinths. This Christian approach to the labyrinth is based on a "threefold path" of Purgation, Illumination, and Union. These represent the three stages in a labyrinth walk. There is the Releasing, the Receiving, and the Integrating. As one enters the labyrinth, following the path to its center, one lets go of all worries and concerns. When at the center, if properly prepared, one receives illumination. Then, as one follows the path out, one integrates what has been received in order to make it visible to the world.”
Lucas finished his wine and salad. Giving Clinton the opportunity to partake of his own portions, Lucas poured himself another glass of wine; then offered a second glass to his companions. Clinton accepted. As he poured, Lucas mulled the information just presented.
“The labyrinth is straightforward then, Yves? Folk follow the path without conscious thought and, therefore, are able to meditate on more noble thoughts?”
“Straightforward, yes, but requiring concentration. One could easily cross tracks and find oneself completing the route too soon or re-stepping an area already covered. You can see how easy this might be at Chartres where the labyrinth still exists.”
Abby and Clinton had now finished their salads. A busboy appeared to remove the remnants and the artifacts of the salad course even as the waiter approached with another busboy in tow. The latter guided a new cart into place. Atop this cart sat the entrée, a chateaubriand, resting on a cutting board. Joining the meat on the top shelf was a small, covered tureen, its ladle jutting out from under the cover.
The waiter removed a sharpening steel hanging from cart’s top shelf. He swiped his carving knife up and down the steel honing the blade to ideal sharpness. It was not clear how he knew when the blade had achieved its desired state as he did not look at the edge when he finished his swipes. He merely re-hung the sharpening steel, wiped the blade with a napkin, and then set to carving the meat.
“Comes now a part that interests me,” Lucas said. “I paid no attention to the menu so I have no idea what sauce this place uses. We’re about to find out.”
“What do you mean?” Abby asked.
“Two schools of thought when it comes to chateaubriand. One says that you use a Bernaise sauce to finish it off. Another says this approach is horribly trite, that you must use the original sauce devised by the meal’s creator.”
“No, Chateaubriand was a writer and diplomat. His chef, Montmereil, created the dish. Many folks believe a sauce attributed to him is the only proper garnish for a chateaubriand.”
The waiter smiled. “And we agree, monsieur. We may be the last restaurant in the civilized world to do so, but we prepare the sauce each day we are open.” As he talked, he withdrew a plate from a lower shelf and placed it on the top shelf. He had sliced two portions, the butt end and another. He placed the second cut on this first plate. Removing the cover from the tureen, he ladled a generous portion of the tureen contents over the meat. Next, he retrieved a another serving bowl from the lower shelf and from it extracted a delicate serving of chateau potatoes. The serving complete, he placed the dish before Abby.
“I assume, monsieur, that you desired the butt?”
“I do,” Lucas confirmed.
“Ah, mon ami, do not be selfish.” Clinton grinned as he complained.
“The other end is yours, sir,” Lucas replied, his grin the match of Clinton’s. Face down on a new plate, the waiter ladled an even more generous application of the garnish that that he provided to Abby. Having listened to the conversation, the waiter presented this plate to Clinton. He now carved the other end of the chateaubriand to prepare and serve Lucas’s meal. He place the meat with carving knife, the tureen, and the bowl of potatoes on the side table. He left the trio to satisfy their order for a second bottle of wine.
“Now, back to the labyrinth,” Lucas ordered.
“Yes, you gave a Christian example,” Abby said, ‘indicating there are other approaches to the labyrinth.”
“All approaches deal with the path one takes through life. Versions have been found in Brazil, the Southwestern United States, Italy, Syria, Spain, India, anywhere and any direction you seek. No matter where you go, the interpretation always involves the personal journey one must tread in one’s life.”
Chewing thoughtfully or relishing the flavor, Lucas said nothing for the time it took him to enjoy three more bites of his dinner. The waiter returned with a second bottle of wine that Lucas approved. Busboys flitted in and out of existence replacing dinner rolls and butter, filling water glasses.
“Personal journeys,” he mused. “like finger prints. Am I the only one who sees the resemblance of these labyrinths to finger prints?”
“I have never encountered that description before, monsieur, but it seems apt.”
“We have a labyrinth here at Reims destroyed for reasons unknown. This labyrinth has a tenuous connection to the Savelli family and through them all the way to Jean Lespinasse. I don’t see it, you know?”
“Monsieur?” Yves was obviously confused. Abby came to his aid. “It’s a mystery we are hunting. There is a connection, we think, but we don’t know what the connection is or what it might mean.”
“And for this, you bought me dinner?”
“Seemed like a good investment at the time,” Lucas said. “I think it has proved so. You gave us a connection to the larger problem with the Ogdead. Have no idea, yet, what it says about our mystery but I do have a gut feeling about its applicability.
"Enough business, let’s just enjoy our dinner.”
They did, the dinner and the after-dinner cordials. Abby and Lucas parted company with Yves after the meal. They spent the cab ride back to the hotel in quiet appreciation of a most enjoyable evening. They agreed to meet bright and early in the morning.
June 24th, 2005, 02:33 PM
It was 8:00A.M. when they met in the hotel lobby for a continental breakfast. Lucas needed the coffee to wake him. There had been a pot in his room but he nevertook advantage of those amenities. He always found a way to screw up the preparation and usually managed to produce a coffee-water overflow so he had learned to ignore their presence. He had performed his morning toiletries in haste and suspected there were fugitive strands of hair exposed here and there on his throat, strands that had eluded his electric razor, so he buttoned his collar and donned a tie. It would not hide all the fugitives but enough so that his conscience would not bother him.
Abby wore her accustomed business suit, scarf at the neck to cover her décolletage. She was bright and energetic as she had been every morning since he had met her and the fact annoyed Lucas just a bit. Why couldn’t she be normal and tired and frustrated as he?
The first cup of coffee down, Lucas began to feel more himself and up to a conversation that until this point had been very one-sided. Abby had recalled with pleasure the previous evening’s meal and conversation in a steady stream of platitudes as if she realized Lucas was not yet fully functioning and intended to take as little notice of that fact as possible. She chatted and smiled while watching Lucas sip his coffee. Occasionally, she stopped long enough to sip her juice or savor a small bit of her pastry.
Lucas now ready, he entered the conversation.
“Been thinking about fingerprints. Been thinking that labyrinths and fingerprints share too many similarities to not be related but I can’t seem to figure a connection.”
“Your comment last evening made an impression on me as well. I went looking this morning on the internet. In the few moments I had to devote to the search, what seems to be consistently agreed to is that the Babylonians used fingerprints in their business transactions and that the Chinese used them on clay tablets around 200 B.C. Then everything goes quiet. There is mention of artwork in Nova Scotia and then nothing until the 1800s.”
“Any female names associated with the history?
”Not in the time frames we have been dealing with.”
“Dead end, then.”
“For the moment, I think so. But, I just now had another thought occur with respect to labyrinths. They could also well be a metaphor for new life conception.”
“Has anyone made that connection before?”
“I don’t recall anything about it but there may be something out there.”
“We’ll look at it later. For now, I think we’d best return to tracking the women. Catherine de Vivonne lived at the end of the 16th century. We went back through Italy to get here in Reims. What if we stayed in Paris?”
Chuckling deprecatingly, Abby delayed response till she enjoyed another taste of her juice. “You are testing my education, Lucas. Yes, I studied this but I do not suffer from eidetic memory.”
Lucas shared her amusement. “Suffer?” he asked.
“I imagine someone who remembers everything they ever read in excruciating detail would find it horrendous attempting to navigate any given day. Wouldn’t they be constantly diverted from whatever they were doing by a sudden unwanted recall of a page of text?”
Lucas laughed harder. “I never heard that it works it that way but I see your point. Would not be any fun at all. Okay, what do you remember?”
“From 1588 backward, the first significant woman I remember is Joan of Arc.but she doesn’t seem to fit with your thread of women influencing but not directing history.”
“Ah, but Joan influenced history. I suspect her example prompted the compilation and publishing of The Malleus Maleficarum and where would the Inquisition have been without that tool?”
“It also taught women of that age that stepping into the affairs men was a disastrous mistake.”
Lucas eyed Abby over his coffe cup. “You’re not serious, are you? You think that Joan’s fate taught women to go back behind stage? Explain Elizabeth.”
Abby thought for a moment, composing her argument. Lucas sipped coffee. The three other couples in the lounge murmured quietly. The aroma of pastry warming on the buffet sent Lucas after another bite of his own serving.
“Christine de Pizan,” she began, ‘the first woman in France to earn her living as an author. Her most famous work is The Treasure of the City of Ladies and that book, while defending the honor of her sex, spells out how women should behave. No bra burning – well, that would have been anachronistic – but her feminism was not radical; it was practical and fostered leadership by influence. On the other hand, she wrote Le Ditie de Jehanne d'Arc. She wrote the former, I seem to remember, in the first decade of the 1400s but she wrote the Song for Joan of Arc before Joan’s capture and trial, in 1429. I memorized one stanza because it said so well how her thinking had evolved to accept the idea of a Joan:
Aha!! What honor for the female
Sex! God shows how he loves it,
When the nobles—great, but wretched—
Who earlier the realm had quit,
By one woman were fortified,
No men could do this deed, but more:
The traitors were repaid in kind!
No one would credit this before.
That kind of thinking could not be allowed to propagate. So, the trial clearly demonstrated for all to see that women do not belong on the battlefield nor do they have a rightful place in the affairs of state unless, God forbid, they should by happenstance become Queen. Elizabeth I was very fortunate that Henry VIII left the Catholic Church. It made her rule more possible despite John Knox. It’s even possible the British learned from their disastrous handling of Joan’s case the power one person has to wreak on a government, even if that one person happens to be a woman.”
“I’m slow catching up here,” Lucas said.
“City of Ladies was bad enough, written by a woman for women but Song for Joan of Arc was just too much. Christine published Song in 1429; The Malleus Maleficarum comes out in 1484. Whenever women get too publicly influential, a reminder appears that they should be seen and not heard.”
“Like John Knox’s First Blast.”
“Okay, then, that’s today. We spend researching the 1300s back. My place or yours?”
“Why, Lucas, is that an invitation?”
Lucas very nearly spit out his last sip of coffee. The innuendo, apt as it was to his question, left him totally off balance. From a serious discussion of history and his project, of a sudden, he was jolted back into reality. He sat at a table with an attractive woman in a hotel, for god’s sake. It was a sure bet that everyone else who observed them together would reach the conclusion Abby had just hinted at but, to his credit he thought, that particular opportunity had not occurred to him since last night at dinner.
“Your call,” he said, smiling to take the blunt edge off.
“Your machine is faster than mine,” she said.
“My place it is,” he agreed. They were on the elevator going up before the new innuendo in her reply finally registered. Lucas turned beet red.
July 1st, 2005, 11:40 AM
“Go to http://www.theatrehistory.com/medieval/bellinger001.html.”
Their hotel boasted modern WiFi convenience so that both laptops hummed with their research. Lucas sat at the desk while Abby used the couch, her notebook perched on the upper of her crossed thighs.
“What’s there?” Abby asked.
“Another reference to Roswitha; very complimentary.”
“Late 9th, early 10th century. The Dark Ages.”
“Got it,” Abby announced and then went quiet as she read the article. When she finished, she looked up to ask: “How does this fit with your theory?”
“Hell, I don’t know. If I had all the answers it wouldn’t be a viable theory, would it?” His smile took any possible sting out of his answer. “Look at it this way. I am looking for indirect influence. Authors are both direct and indirect. Here is a lady well aware of the tenor of her times. In the Preface to her plays, she even states the status quo: “especially when it is fragile woman who is victorious and strong man who is routed with confusion.” This is a mind at work using available tools to make a point.”
Abby now laughed aloud. “A woman preaching chastity in the Dark Ages.”
“Laugh if you want to but isn’t that the point, a woman actively working against the common wisdom?”
Abby’s smile remained even as her laugh made a quick exit. “You in favor of chastity then?”
“If I had a daughter, I would be.”
“I don’t deny it. And thank you for not adding ‘pig’ to the epithet. Did you ever wonder why no one ever talks about female Chauvinists? Poor Nicky was a male, after all, so the term ‘male Chauvinist’ seems redundant to me. Of course, I am also a bit miffed as I thought I had progressed to a 90s-kind-of-a-guy, socially aware, in touch with my inner me and all that.”
“It’s a new millennium and 90s kinds of guys are ancient history. The male gender is in the midst of a fundamentalist revival.”
“Such cynicism from such a pretty girl.”
Abby accepted the compliment with nothing more than a raised eyebrow. She kept the conversation directed to the business at hand with: “So, do you think Marguerite read Roswitha?”
Their first discovery this morning had been Marguerite Porete, who beat Joan of Arc to the stake by a hundred years. Marguerite had been an author, too, one who tackled serious subjects without permission of the Church. She also failed to write her work in Latin, she used the comman French of the time making her ideas accessible to the masses. She knew you can’t be encouraging the masses to think about theology without proper direction. They will inevitably come to their own conclusions and if everyone comes to their own conclusions, how are you going to control the world?
“Geographically and temporally feasible but who knows? I’d accept it just because they are both authors, the one demonstrating the possibility to the other.”
“Marguerite has some good stuff. Like this passage:
“Love: This Soul is lady of the Virtues, daughter of Deity, sister of Wisdom, and bride of Love.
Soul: Truly, but this seems to Reason to be strange language. But it is not strange, and in a little while Reason will be no more. But I was, and I am, and I will be always without lack, for Love has no beginning, no end, and no limit, and I am nothing except Love. How would I have been anything else? This could not be.
Reason: Ah God! How dare one say this? I dare not listen to it. I am fainting truly, Lady Soul, in hearing you; my heart is failing. I have no more life.
Soul: Alas! Why did it take so long, this death! For as long as I had you, Lady Reason, I could not freely receive my inheritance, what was and is mine. But now I can receive it freely, since I have wounded you to death by Love. Now Reason is dead.”
“Fit Marguerite into your theory, please.”
Lucas thought for a minute, shoving his cahir away from the desk to allow him to cross his legs. As he replied, it was obivous he was manufacturing his response as he went along. “The Inquisition is operating. The Dominicans are erasing everyone who thinks too oddly and anything not argued according to Aquinas is too oddly. Aquinas is the soul of reason; Marguerite rejects reason. A woman presents an alternative to a male world view: she influences her world.”
“And pays the price.”
“Heretics must be dealt with, mustn’t they? Your passage is a killer for the Dominicans but just as problematic for the Church was her mysticism. She asked questions the Church would not even want to consider today:
” And afterward, I considered in my pondering, as if God were asking me, how I would fare if I knew that God could be better pleased that I should love another better than God. At this my sense failed me, and I knew not how to answer, nor what to will, nor what to deny, but I responded that I would ponder it.
And then God asked me how I would fare if it could be that God could love another better than me. And at this my sense failed me, and I knew not what to answer, or will, or deny.
Yet again, God asked me what I would do and how I would fare if it could be that God would will that someone other love me better than God. And again my sense failed, and I knew not what to respond, no more than before, but still I said that I would ponder it.”
That kind of thinking can cause havoc with doctrine.”
They became quiet then, each considering the questions, Pearl had asked. Lucas had taken to thinking of her as Pearl having discovered the Old French translation of Marguerite. In a minute, Lucas arose to travel across the room to the thermometer, manipulating the gauge to lower the temperature in the room a few degrees.
“Getting hot in here,” he explained.
“Close the curtains; shut off the direct sun light.”
Lucas did as instructed. The room took on a murky gloom that he found annoying. By this time, Abby placed her notebook on the couch and stood to stretch the stiffness out of her muscles. Lucas headed for the bathroom.
“She is totally unaware,” he told himself, “how she looks when she does that.” Then, his other self argued right back: “Yeah, right. She’s an innocent who picks up men at airports to make a night’s layover more endurable…Oh, you remember that conversation, do you? And you think it could happen to you?…It’s a possibility worth entertaining…No way! She’s young; you’re not…Then, why is she spending so much time with you? Because the conversation is so brilliant? Because she’s genuinely interested in your research?…You think there might be another motive?…I’d be pretty damned certain there was another motive..”
A knock on the bathroom door interrupted Lucas train of thought. He found himself startled into looking at his reflection in the mirror as if he had just been caught doing something improper.
“Are you okay in there?” Abby asked through the closed door.
“I’m fine,” Lucas said, “just fine. Be out in a minute. Need to finish.”
Lucas went about relieving himself hoping the noise would satisfy Abby’s curiosity.
“How do I discover her true motive,” he asked himself as he drained. “Can’t just say “so what are you really up to?…Why not? You’re a reporter and that’s what reporters do, isn’t it?…Might offend her…So?…Then, she wouldn’t hang around…And you are enjoying having her around, aren’t you…Well…No fool like an…Don’t need to say ‘old,’; I’m not old, just middle aged.”
Lucas finished then and washed his hands. He emerged from the bathroom to discover Abby patiently standing a step or two from the door.
“Your turn,” Lucas offered brightly, holding the door for her.
Abby looked at him as if staring would offer her mind penetration into his. It didn’t so she smiled and accepted his offer. The door closed behind her to Lucas great relief.
“Okay,” he thought, “time to get to the bottom of this…How?…Ask her the question…You’re going to pop the question?…Don’t be a bigger asshole than you have to be…She did look good stretching, didn’t she?”
July 8th, 2005, 10:11 AM
“Did you read the incident report?”
Amaunet regarded the questioner sitting at the console, her back to Amaunet, more engrossed in the display than in either Amaunet or whatever answer came to her question. Amaunet – these days she preferred to be called Amy - believed Naunet to be the least sociable sphinx in the litter and very little that Naunet did provided evidence to the contrary. Amy thought Naunet’s adoption of the short version “Net” was mis-applied. Nettle would have suited her better.
“As I always do when I come in, I read the log, saw the incident report, and shrugged it off to native curiosity.” Amy’s tone indicated boredom but boredom was a natural state for a sphinx. Spending seven millennia watching the consoles repeat themselves over and over again did that. As a natural state, any intent to prick Net’s conscience with sarcasm based on boredom was doomed to failure.
“Ah, the beastie is exhibiting more than your normal curiosity, Amy, dear. This one may well turn out to be a blemish to be removed.”
“If we’re going to discuss this, can we at least look at each other?”
Chairs designed to support a sphinx engaged in monitoring a console were built as comfortable benches canted at an up angle of 20 degrees. They also included a motorized swivel base that allowed the chair to rotate in position, a capability Net employed to turn to face Amy.
“This one is perseverant. Been at this now for more than a week. Came dangerously close to studying labyrinths and is now beginning to suspect our agent.”
“Abby is competent. Her cover will remain in place.” Amy made the assertion with a confidence she did not necessarily feel. Net’s instincts were always good; if she thought this Lucas was about to be a blemish on the record, the chances were very good that that was precisely what was transpiring.
“We’ve had investigators before, Net,” Amy said to prolong the discussion while she gathered her own thoughts. “What makes this one different?”
“He thinks he’s found a pattern.” Worry lines on a sphinx’ brow turn the face into a fearsome image as if the concentration heightens an innate impulse to hunt. Naunet would be the first to laugh off such a suggestion as mere anthropomorphism. Sphinx had not been hunters for thirty million years. “He is beginning to suspect that whenever a woman seems to be having an influence, a man counterattacks to diminish that influence.”
“Suspicion is one thing, proof is another. Does he have any proof?”
“Circumstantial evidence at the moment but his suspicion of Abby’s motives are connected to the unsettledness his discovery of the possible trend has produced in him.”
“An unsettled male investigating history.” That simple statement sent a shudder through Amy. To mask her unease she lifted her right foreleg to examine the hand/paw. The ‘fingers” held two joints and no claws despite what the image in Giza might proclaim. Claws are of little use operating complicated equipment. They had gone the way of the hunting instinct too many ages ago to be concerned about.
The silence lasted long enough for both parties to have their next statements well formulated.
“It’s time to act, then?” Amy asked.
“Not yet. We need to give this one more rope before we hang him.”
“That is such a good metaphor; I do like it. My compliments.”
Naunet smiled at the compliment, the smile transforming her face into an even more feral picture. Amy thought that if Lucas could behold that smile, he would certainly cease and desist from his investigation.
“No action then except to aid Abby get through his suspicions.”
“Exactly,” Net agreed.
“Well, it could be worse. That one in England could be on the scent as well.”
“We’ve had larger crises than this to accommodate. Watching an entire world is a bit more than we planned on but we’re managing.”
Naunette raised herself from the bench, stretched long and hard. “Anything happening in the den?”
Amy laughed. “They have the usual poker game going with the usual outcome. Huh is winning and Kuk is upset about it.”
“Now, Net, don’t you go anthropomorphising our partners.”
Naunet laughed, too, at the easy trap she had fallen into. “You watch these humans for so long, you begin to find their traits in yourself.”
“Any traits we have in common, we are responsible for. Been teaching them so long we forget that they are not us.”
“Easy to do,” Naunet agreed. “Liked it better under the pyramid. Didn’t have to maintain such close contact.”
“The tourists became a problem, though.”
“Looters you mean.”
“Same thing. They just kept finding the door the lower chamber.”
“Well, South Africa is not a great improvement.”
“Climate is better than Shangri La, don’t you think?”
“My coat gets too thin down here. Would prefer the Alps. Remember the caves?”
“We miscalculated that time, didn’t we? Underestimated the drive of those folk to take ourselves down to the Nile. Ah, well, no point worrying over past mistakes. The Nile worked out alright and we are less than a millennia away from the return home.”
“There’s a lesson in that, isn’t there? Lose one little engine you overstrain the second landing on a planet with too much gravity and you lose the second. Takes you a very long time to build replacements.”
“And you need help. When the locals are not anywhere close to the proper technology, you must spur them on.”
“Makes for a very long poker game.”
Amy took the couch, dialed into Lucas connection, and settled into planning Abby’s defense. Net wandered off into the den proper.
July 18th, 2005, 05:35 PM
When Abby emerged from the privy, Lucas had his head buried in his laptop. He did not look up causing Abby to come to stand in front of him until he did so.
“Something?” Lucas asked. His attempt at innocence did not fool her.
“What is going on, please? One minute we are reading Porete; the next you are hiding out in the loo.”
“I was not hiding,” Lucas answered. “I had to go, you know.”
“Yes, yes, quite. So, what is on your mind?”
Lucas waved at Abby, a dismissive gesture or a directive gesture. Whichever it was supposed to be he accompanied the gesture with ”why don’t you go sit down so we can talk.”
“We can talk fine just as we are,” Abby said, not giving an inch.
“No, we can’t!”
“Why can’t we?”
“Because you are acting like a woman and standing like a woman and I can’t concentrate on being irritated or interested in the conversation with you standing there. All I see is you looking too damned attractive and thinking like that isn’t going to get me anywhere.”
“You think I’m attractive? Took you long enough to say something.” But Abby relented and crossed back to the chair by the table where her own laptop rested.
“I didn’t say that,” Lucas protested and then felt as stupid as he sounded because, yes, he had said that and, yes, he had meant it, and, yes, by god, she knew exactly what he had meant.
“Okay, then, why are you here?”
Abby’s smile was a martini, ten parts gin to one part dry vermouth. “Do you mean do I want to jump into the sack with you?”
“Oh, hellfire, woman, give me a break. Just answer the damned question.”
“Which question? The one where you want to know whether or not I am attracted to you or the one why I am spending my time with you if I am not attracted to you?”
“The last one first, please.”
“I thought I told you I was interested.”
“Then, why didn’t you go study it on your own? You are every bit as clever as I am and would have discovered everything we have discovered all by yourself.”
“Would you believe I wanted to be near you?”
“Yes, I would, if you tell me why that is so.”
“Because…” The shift in her focus, the oh-so-slight slackening in her jaw line, the settling into a new comfort zone on the chair were all too much for Lucas. “Forget it. You’re not going to tell the truth. You’re gonna work my gonads into a tizzy and I’m not going to learn anything I want to know. Just say that and get it over with.”
Abby sat up straight, the beginnings of tension now replacing the comfort zone. “What did I say?”
“You didn’t say anything and you were not going to say anything. I have been around women longer than you have been around men and you were going into distract-the-puppy mode. Seen it a hundred times before. Had it used on me with great success another hundred times or more. Got to where I can at least recognize it in its early stages.”
“So, what you want to hear from me…let me be certain that I have this correct…is that you are my assignment. I have attached myself to you, wormed my way into your good graces because I am an agent provocateur and you are my quarry. Good god, Lucas, that is so corny!”
”But is it true?” The words were almost a whisper and the look Lucas wore said that he feared it was true, that he thought he knew who had set Abby after him, and that he desperately did not want to be right.
“Of course, its’ true!’ Abby’s words were angry, up an order of magnitude from the level she had been using. “You are so damned Bosbefok it is unbelievable! I have never met such an ignorant man. You think you are on to some grand conspiracy so potent its very existence cannot even be suspected by the raff? Ignorant and pumpin’ taken with himself as well, that’s who you are.”
She ran out of words then and a silence prevailed for more than a moment.
“So, its’ true then.” Lucas said as he closed his laptop. He placed it on the side table, stood, walked to the window. He opened the curtains to consider the late morning scenery. Abby stared at him in total disbelief. “How did you reach that conclusion, may I ask?”
Lucas turned around to look at Abby. “You admitted it and then you sent out a smoke screen to cover the admission.”
“You are a paranoid son-of-a-bitch,” Abby said. The way she said it it was as if she was now in awe of Lucas.
“Reporters are always paranoid. It’s how they get their best stories.”
“So, then, Sherlock, who am I working for?”
“Best guess? The Women’s Institute.”
Abby laughed but cut her laughter short. “What is their motive, may I ask?”
“I must be close to finding something, What that might be I haven’t a clue at the moment. But, it’s the only thing that makes sense out of my detour in Ireland and our meeting in Britain and you attaching yourself to me.”
“Amazing,” Abby said. “Just amazing. So, now what? Am I banished from your sight forever more?”
“I should. I really should. But I haven’t been able to find how you are manipulating me yet. In fact, I’d swear you weren’t except for the innuendos now and then. So, if you want to stick around, it’s okay with me. Just thought you ought to know I have been suspicious and will continue to be.”
An evil grin appeared on Abby’s face. “Even if I really work at seducing you?”
“I won’t object top that. I never object to a good time in bed. I just won’t take it personal, okay?”
Lucas wry smile sent a chill through Abby. She had seriously considered the prospect of seducing this man but that thought had just turned sour. She might be required to do it yet but all the fun had gone out of the game.
July 28th, 2005, 02:34 PM
Lucas sat in his hotel room, unnaturally quiet now with Abby gone, but the lingering scent of her perfume acted to remind him of Abby’s presence, how much he had enjoyed it. He took his logic out and re-examined his conclusions in the cold stillness of his room. With the added point that Abby made no serious counter argument, he felt himself disappointed at being right.”She should have argued,” he thought, “she should have tried to convince me even though that would have convinced me more. She is working for someone to guide me some place and I am no longer certain what it is that is happening here.
“Why would the Women’s Institute worry about my research? What can I find that they do not want found and how does it relate to Hatshepsut?
“All I’ve discovered thus far is that when women become too influential, they were burned. And some tract comes out against them. There have been queens throughout history, before and after Hathsepsut. But, they are the exception and not the rule. And they walk a narrow line or they find the fire themselves.
“So, my original hypothesis was that something caused women to decide to exit stage right and re-enter stage left in the background. That something was so powerful that it operates even today. What the hell could have been that powerful?
"The trouble is that all evidence makes it patently clear what was that powerful. It was the church. The problem with that is, the church wasn't around in Hathsepsut's time. That's what 1500 BC means: no church.”
Lucas rose from his chair, walked around the room trying to get a handle on even the basic idea at the heart of his hypothesis. As he walked, he paid no attention to what he was doing. Deeply engrossed in the problem, everything else was autonomic so that when he gathered glasses from the table he was already in the bathroom before he realized he was in the process of straightening the room. He laughed at himself, staring at the glasses in his hand. One glass attracted his attention, the smudge on the rim, the trace of Abby’s lipstick.
“Oh, for god’s sake, man, it’s a lipstick smear. BFD! You’ve seen a hundred thousand just like it.” The words came out too loud and too insistent to be anything but hollow.
“Then, call her, you dumb ass,” he instructed himself and his feet took him back across the room to the nightstand where the instrument sat waiting in all its mocking glory.
“And say what?” he asked himself. He turned around again, circling the room looking for something that did not appear. “You haven’t been this stupid since you were 14 years old,” he told himself. “You want to talk to her? Okay, admit it. Call her and talk to her.”
Lucas sat down at the table and pulled his laptop toward him. With practiced ease he summoned his research site and forced himself to look at something. He found Hypatia, three different accounts. A philosopher in Alexandria, she incurred the wrath of at canonized saint. She was ripped apart, literally, by a mob under the influence of St. Cyril. Three versions of the story were available, one by Damscius, one by Socrates Scholacticus, and one by John of Nikiu. Ole John was squarely on the side of church and order painting Hypatia the most evil woman to ever trod the face of the earth. The other two took more moderate views. Still, here was a woman acting as if she had a brain and willing to use it. “Must not have been blond,” Lucas smirked but then chastised himself immediately. “Don’t fall into the trap yourself, Lucas. Stay objective like the good reporter you are.”
This time, though, he argued with himself. “Abby would see the humor,” he protested and the research project went down the tubes. Up and walking again, his eyes continuously drawn to the telephone, he tried to convince himself that Abby would just steer him away from his story. Hadn’t she done so this far? Trying to answer that one, Lucas discovered he could not see how she had steered him anyway but where he wanted to go. “Just proves how good she is,” he told himself and then immediately added “or how not bright you are. If you can’t even see it in retrospect how the hell do you know it happened in the first place?”
He was back at the phone. His hand, as if under its own volition, lifted the receiver and put it to his ear. The index finger of his other hand pushed the “0.” His voice instructed the operator to connect him to Abby’s room. The whole time his mind sat outside his body watching it betray him. When Abby answered, he asked if she would care to join him for dinner. He told her he would understand if she did not want to be bothered but the elation that filled him when she “yes, of course,” was almost more than he could bear.
Hanging up the phone, Lucas asked himself if he was ever going to grow up. He wasn’t surprised when he answered “probably not.”
August 4th, 2005, 04:43 PM
Dinner, a small, out-of-the-way restaurant discovered more through accident than plan. A dozen tables to the place, an open kitchen where food preparation could be enjoyed as much as ingested. Their table afforded a better than average view of the goings on. Before dinner, Lucas went with Scotch, water on the side. Abby declined asking only for water. At Abby’s suggestion, they both ordered Bitokes a la Russe. “I knew what I wanted,” Abby said, “which is why I declined a aperitif.”
Lucas, meanwhile was confronted with a choice. The place was small so the choices were limited. “Would monsieur care for Chivas, Dewars, or Black and White?” Abby’s eyebrow raised at Lucas’ selection of the Black and White. His turn to laugh. “Long ago in another world with no taxes, B&W was $1per fifth while Chivas was $2.75 and Dewars nowhere to be found. Under such circumstances, a man will acquire a taste for B&W that later, even in his most rational moments, he cannot divest himself.”
The drinks arrived allowing conversation to follow its bent. This night, after this morning, a tentativeness lay at the foundation. Lucas decided he could not spend the evening walking on eggs, so he apologized.
“For what, may I ask?”
“For accusing you.”
“If you were correct?”
“I apologize anyway. It was boorish, unkind, and stupid.”
“Anyway, let’s forget about that and enjoy dinner and allow me to seduce you.”
“I thought it was supposed to be the other way around. I was going to seduce you as part of some grand nefarious scheme.”
“That was then; this is now.”
Behind the glass that separated the kitchen from the dining room, the chef dropped butter into a sauce pan. When it ran smoothly, he placed four hamburger patties he had just salt and peppered into the pan. In just a couple of minutes he, flipped each patty to let the off side cook. Abby had ordered hers medium but Lucas, conditioned by his own culture, had gone with well done. The waiter politely corrected him to medium well. “The chef will not burn the meat for you, monsieur,” he explained.
“You know,” Lucas said to Abby, “one of my favorite scenes in a movie had that very line or something quite close to it. The guy is in this fancy restaurant in New York City. He’s a westerner, hitched up with with boots, western suit, hat, the whole mess. He orders his steak “burnt.” The waiter - and then the maitre d’ - explain to him the chef will not burn meat for anyone. The guy gets up and storms out of the place. The next night he returns. He orders his steak “burnt.” Again, the waiter and the maitre d’ attempt to explain that the chef will not burn meat for anyone. “He will for me,” the cowboy says. “And why is that, monsieur?” The maitre d’ asks. “Because I bought the place today,” the cowboy says. Always wanted to say that.”
“Can you buy this place?” Abby asked.
“Me? You must be teasing. I’m a reporter for the New York Planet. No way I make that kind of money.”
With both sides of the patties properly cooked, the chef placed the four on a platter. Next, he drained the fat from the saucepan and put the pan back on the heat. To this, he added another bit of butter and a spoonful of finely chopped shallots. When these were turning nicely, he added a healthy dash of cognac. He played them around the saucepan over the fire for a minute till some circuit in his brain clicked and he judged the mixture ready for the next step. He added a cup of sour cream together with a dash more salt and pepper.
He removed the pan from the heat and poured the entire brew into a strainer holding the finest cloth sieve. The refined mixture dropped into a bowl beneath. When the sifting completed, the chef poured the new bowl’s contents back into the sauce pan. Adding another bit of butter, he again heated the sauce.
He removed lightly toasted buns from the oven, placed them on a two plates, the buns split in two. Onto these he placed the bitokes and over the bitokes he poured the sauce. The final touch was to add servings of green beans in a cheese with bacon bits sauce. Abby and Lucas watched the waiter accept the dishes and make his way from the kitchen to their table.
Lucas passed on another drink.
With the entrée before them, conversation dwindled. Lucas explored a dozen new topics in his mind but rejected each. He was still debating when Abby spoke.
“We went so fast today, we missed Heloise and Abelard,” she said.
“Tell me about them,” Lucas invited.
“A pair of philosophers, beginning of the 12th century. He was the older wiser man; she the young brilliant pupil. Actually, her brilliance is what attracted Abelarde. He volunteered to act as her tutor but he was after something more personal than education.”
“A full scale affair replete with child out of wedlock. Off she goes to a nunnery and he remains to suffer the outrageous fortune of a father enraged. Cost him the family jewels.”
“Literally? He was castrated?,” Lucas wait a moment then added: “Are you trying to tell me something?”
Abby laughed a deep, appreciative laugh. “My father is likely in South Africa. He’d better be in South Africa or my mother will not be happy with the man; his jewels might then be in some danger..
“And, in answer to your question, seemed like a fitting punishment to the father. The two were married anyway, in secret, but they were separated for the rest of their lives. That was fortunate because it created the need for correspondence which survived them both. Eleven letters to be precise.”
“Here’s the part that fits your theory,” Abby began, leaning across her plate to add emphasis to the argument. “She writes of how women are too frail and stupid to be much use. She quotes the Old Testament at length to prove her points. He, on the other hand, counters each argument asserting women are the equal of men in all things important and he uses the New Testament to make his case.”
“I’m a little slow following your logic, Abby. How does that fit my theory.”
“She was a brilliant woman.” Abby let that thought simmer while she enjoyed a bite of food. Lucas picked up the ball. “And a brilliant woman arguing the stupidity of women is nothing more than reverse psychology.”
“Which Abelarde, also brilliant, aided and abetted.”
“So, the message was spread in the 12th century in the tried and true method guaranteed to produce results, indirection.”
“Except that it cost poor Abelarde more than most men bargain for.”
August 17th, 2005, 10:58 AM
He changed his mind about the drinks ordering a glass of Navan cognac that arrived in that special glass reserved for cognac. The bowl shape allows the hand to warm the cognac while retaining the vapor within its bowl. Abby passed, contented herself with her water. He tried to picture what the two of them looked like to any observer interested enough to pay attention. She sat across from him composed, patient, apparently waiting for him to steer the conversation. It was as if she was waiting to assess his technique. After all, Lucas had declared he was going to seduce her.
His mind veered away from this line of thought allowing itself to be diverted by the sight of Abby’s spectacles perched precariously on the end of her nose while her eyes peeked over the frame top to watch him. He decided that he could make book with himself on how soon the spectacles must careen from her nose and become thoroughly distracted in the suspense.
He dismissed that thought to consider what he wanted to say. Being with her felt right. That he knew for certain while any conspiracy theory was speculation. Of course she had not denied it; she was much to bright to become embroiled in such a no-win conversation. So, he thought, put it aside and get to what’s important.
“The question we both have, Abby,” he began, “is where do we go from here? I know where I want to go. I want to chase my story and I want you with me the entire trip.” Abby smiled an encouragement that kept the words pouring. “I have found that I cannot be with you enough, cannot hear your thoughts and ideas enough, cannot anticipate what you will say or how you will react to the inanities I say enough. In the few days we’ve known each other, the one constant in our relationship is that I never get enough.”
Abby’s smile evolved to a wicked grin. “That’s it? That’s your pick-up line? No compliments for my eyes, no reference to my figure, no enthusing over my lips?”
“I can do those. They’d all be true...”
Abby laughed. “So, now you want to start over?”
“No,” Lucas said. “I told you what’s important to me.”
Abby reached across the table to hold Lucas’ hand. “It worked just fine,” she said. “Finish your cognac.”
“Where do we go from here?” Abby asked the question. It was later in Lucas’ room, much later.
“Is that an invitation?”
“You think you’re ready for an invitation?” The question was matter-of-fact, no insult intended. That allowed Lucas to laugh at the thought and turn the conversation to back to the question.
“Something I came across intrigues me. Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi developed his educational theories based on how his mother, Gertrude, had raised he and his siblings. The most basic influence there can be is mother-child. I was wondering if we looked at each historical figure’s mother we might discover a trend, a commonality of belief, something.”
“A lank undertaking if I ever heard one,” Abby said. “The record is not so clear as to provide exhaustive data on mums when all the words are spent on the children.”
“I know; I know, it’s just something that keeps bugging me.”
“1500 years B.C., women suddenly give up control. There is no struggle, no insurrection that overthrows women. It just happens. Makes no sense to me.”
“How do you know there was no struggle? What makes you so certain?”
“There is no historical record.”
“And that proves something, eh?”
It was Lucas turn to laugh. “Forgive me, Abby, but if you are supposed to be steering me away from something these questions aren’t the way to go about it.”
Abby rolled away from Lucas to sit up, the sheets falling away from her body. “Are you going to start down that path again? Can you not just let it go?”
“It’s hard to argue with you in that state, Abby, and I don’t want to argue anyway.” Lucas eyes were riveted though his mind was taking in the view while co-processing the conversation. “We’ve had the discussion so it is fixed in our memories. Referring to it now and then doesn’t make it more important or less. It just is.”
“It sounds like an attack,” Abby said.
“Well, it isn’t. It’s a humorous acknowledgement that your questions are apt and productive.” Lucas paused for a few seconds to allow that thought to sink in. Then, with his finest lecherous leer, he asked “Would you care to kiss and make up?” Abby could not restrain the laugh his question demanded.
“You are an incurable boykie, are you not?”
“I don’t know what that is but it sounds like me.”
“Back to the point, then. Because information is missing from the historical can be just as significant as if it were there. That’s the point about the winners writing the history.”
“So, we keep searching the record for clues to what is not in the record.”
“Sounds like a plan but I wonder if the plan can be out on the back burner for a while. I like the way you’re looking at me.”
“I’m a big fan of back burners,” Lucas said before he his lips became engaged in a different activity.
August 28th, 2005, 05:25 PM
"Did I tell you what I found all by myself after you ejected me from your life?"
“What did you find?” Lucas lay on his back, holding Abby’s right hand as if they were on an ambulatory jaunt through the city, feeling as good as he had felt in many years. Feeling that good, he let the jibe land a solid blow but refused to counter-attack.
“Another anomaly in the man-woman relationships: the Cathars.” Abby answered.
“Roughly the same time frame as Heloise and Abelarde, at least for getting off the ground. Terminated a bit after the two. Didn’t Dan Brown bring them up in his novel?”
Abby sniffed her disdain. ”Yes, he did but he missed the point to make another point.”
“What point did he miss?”
“Cathars’ priests.” Abby said as if it were the most obvious conclusion possible.
Lucas propped himself on an elbow to get a better look at Abby, on her back looking up. He became distracted by the impish I-know-something-you-don’t-know grin playing on her lips. The grin led him to the proper conclusion before Abby could get it out. “The priests were female,” he guessed. Abby laughed her “You’re half right; the priests were both male and female. Evidently, the Cathars both preached and tried to live sexual equality.”
“In the 12th and 13th centuries!” Lucas said, his voice carrying the wonder he felt.
“They were bound to run afoul of the Catholic church. The male and female priests shared their time between preaching and doing regular work because the Cathars required their priests to live on their labors. The fruits of that priestly labor and the believers’ donations made the wealth of the Cathar Church. The priests dressed in black, moved about, lived in pairs, extolled the doctrines of their church while refusing secular laws.”
Lucas nodded appreciatively. “As a good segment of the population of Israel does today,” he said.
“The Cathar church held no rights over the population; they did not believe in the feudal heirachy and their preaching promoted feminism and equality for the serfs. They believed the world consists of a fight between two equals: Good and Evil. They looked to the gospel of St. John for their truths and made that new testament their bible. Good was the kingdom of the good lord; Evil was the material and time-passing reality of the visible physical world. They were pretty certain that Evil had imprisoned good inside men's bodies and to overcome this, we enter the kingdom of God through our souls. To make that happen, men and women we "ascèse," in other words detach ourselves from the material world. This “ascèse" prepared us for baptism, the Cathars only sacrament. Baptism provides salvation through "consolament," the joining of soul and spirit. Their only prayer was The Lord’s Prayer.”
Lucas shrugged. ”They were doomed politically as well as on religious grounds.”
“Of course,” Abby agreed, “but it required a half century to do them in militarily and their ideas kept popping up for another two centuries. The last known practitioner to be burned at the stake was Guillaume Bélibaste in 1321. The ideas they promoted were powerful and probably never died because we know abouyt them today and some folk are attempting yet another rebirth of the faith.”
Lucas dropped away from Abby onto his back, his eyes staring at the ceiling but seeing nothing as his mind raced. “A society of gender equality popping up in France against all logic. A society that must be literally burned out of the population. The fire again.” Scratching an itch at his hairline, he continued on: “That’s the pattern, again and again. We are told that women have been restrained for centuries upon centuries, that their lives were of no consequence, mere chattel, and yet the exceptions to this common sense keep appearing on history’s pages. We only see a handful of that survived but think how much more must have existed in order for the handful to make it through the sieve.”
Now Abby was on her side, head propped by bent arm. “Historians point to the exception as queens or empresses as if that explains those women’s education and influence. But, the Cathars belie that assumption as does Heloise. The history of Western Civilization is flawed more than we suspected.”
“Well, ****!” Lucas exclaimed, abruptly sitting up in the bed. He looked back down at Abby: “Is this just a Western Civilization problem? Have we been missing something really important by not looking at the rest of the world. Woman have not been much better off in Middle East and Far East. Yet, so far, we been tracking only the European spoor.”
“Because it’s been immediately available to us and because Western Civilization thinks its roots are in Egypt; the Ogdoad, remember?”
“You’re saying we should keep on this track and then worry about what else there may be.”
“Makes sense to me,” Abby said.
“And to me,” Lucas agreed. “Time to get back to work.” He kissed Abby swiftly before he left the bed, heading for a shower. “You were right. Too soon for me.”
“Wanna bet?” Abby asked as she came up out of the bed to follow Lucas into the shower.