Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Wizards of Winds and Waves, chapter 37

Some intrigue

OK, the action is beginning to heat up. What can our team do about the Others’ plans?

Wizards of Winds and Waves
Chapter 37

The next time we saw Peter was at a cocktail party similar to the one at which Pierre had met the members of the communist circle. He had quit shaving, so his face was covered in stubble, and his hair was unkempt. He was in conversation with André and Aldo and a couple of other young men with similar grooming habits that I vaguely remembered from the night Pierre went to the communist meeting. From a distance, it looked like Peter was getting involved with that crowd, a prospect I was sure Grace wouldn’t like. I wondered how I might try to warn him that this group wasn’t all it was supposed to be, and that he could well regret having taken up with them.

“I’ll take care of it,” Betsy said as she passed by me on her way to join that conversation. This could get interesting, I thought. Peter had apparently given up on getting Betsy to notice him, but now she was headed right for him. Betsy turned toward me and gave me a wink. Pierre and I couldn’t get close enough to the conversation to overhear, but we could watch Betsy in action from a distance. It was uncanny how she had changed from my painfully shy roommate into this poised, outgoing young woman. Partly, it must have had to do with having her face restored, and maybe partly, it was about discovering who her parents really were and thus who she really was. But partly, it was just her discovering her own strengths. I saw her face redden slightly as she glanced in my direction, and I realized I was probably embarrassing her; it was time to think of something else.

I turned to Pierre to ask if he could rub the back of my neck where it was beginning to ache a bit, but I didn’t need to ask; he came around behind me and began kneading just the right spot with just the right amount of pressure and, of course, that magic aura. I felt better almost immediately. “Ah, thanks,” I said. “I was beginning to get a headache.”

“I know,” Pierre said. “And I wouldn’t want that to happen; your headaches kill me.”

From a distance, we kept an eye on Betsy and Peter through whichever one of us was facing that direction. Betsy was clearly trying to get Peter apart from the group at least a little bit, since she couldn’t very well say much in front of them. Peter, meanwhile, wouldn’t budge; he seemed suspicious of her, somehow. If he had been spending time with that group, he might well have heard of Pierre’s visit to the salon, and, while he certainly wouldn’t know why, he would have been warned not to trust Pierre or anyone close to him. Betsy raised her hand, and at first I thought she was going to slap Peter, but then she reached over and caressed his face in a gesture I realized she had learned from me, one I used to show affection for Pierre in situations when decorum was called for. Peter reached up and removed Betsy’s hand from his face, briefly holding it in one hand while patting it with the other, and then he turned and left the room.

Betsy came over to join Pierre and me. “Well, he’s going to their salon,” she said. “I offered him, uh, alternate activities, but I couldn’t really say much with those other guys right there. However, he did invite me to join him at the salon. I told him I’d think about it.”

“That could be dangerous,” Pierre said. “Of the three of us, you’re the one who can’t communicate with anyone. If you got in trouble, you couldn’t send for help.”

“Wait,” I said. “Peter knows me and Betsy only slightly, and none of the other members of the group know either of us at all. I could go as Betsy.”

“It’s awfully dangerous,” Pierre said. “What if Stephane figures out you’re a wizard?”

“Betsy faces the same problem, but with more danger. You two will both be available to come to the rescue if need be, and you can even find someplace nearby so you can respond quickly.”

We returned to the flat, where Betsy and I traded clothes. Our hairstyles were already similar, so it only took a bit of a change for both of us. I traded one of my more worldly outfits for one of Betsy’s more innocent-looking ones, and she put on the makeup that M. Richard’s assistant had designed for me, while I put on that which had been designed for her. “This is uncanny,” Pierre said when we were done. “Even I’m having trouble telling which of you is which.”

I traveled to the salon by myself, and Pierre and Betsy went together to a bar around the corner from it. Fortunately, it was the sort of place that people in Pierre’s social circle would never stoop to visit, so there was little danger of recognition. Betsy knew no French, while Pierre’s friends knew that I knew it passably well, so if any of them were to strike up a conversation, they would see through the ruse immediately. Among strangers, however, they could simply be the loving American couple with the fluent French-speaking husband. And nobody would really question why they wanted to cozy up together in the shadiest corner.

The fluency issue would work in my favor, however. Since Betsy didn’t know French, Peter would have to translate for her/me, but since I did know French, I would know if Peter wasn’t telling the whole story.

I arrived at the salon at the same time as Peter. “Betsy!” he said. “I didn’t think you were coming!”

“I did say I’d think about it,” I said. I could see that Peter was still nervous about Betsy’s presence, and I wondered what I might do to put him at ease.

“I called him a wanna-be intellectual at the party,” Betsy said in Pierre’s ear. “Try apologizing for that.”

“Look, I’m sorry I called you a wanna-be intellectual,” I said. “I shouldn’t judge until I see what this whole thing is about.”

Peter relaxed. “Well, let’s go in, then.”

As I entered the flat, I could tell that it was nearly the same as when Pierre had been there before, although the stink didn’t seem so bad. I realized that, once again, that extra-large schnozz had been extra-sensitive. Betsy giggled in Pierre’s ear.

“What’s so funny?” Pierre asked.

“What Sarah thinks of your nose,” Betsy said, stroking it with her forefinger. “It’s one of your more endearing features.”

“Endearing, eh?” A waitress came by with fresh beer for Betsy and wine for Pierre, and she smiled and winked as she set the glasses down before retreating with a comment about leaving the two alone for a while. Pierre winked back.

The meeting went very much like the one Pierre had attended before, with mostly the same people, the same slogans, the same reminder that when the call to action came, the group would need to lead the masses, to bring organization that would be necessary to overthrow the existing system, corrupt as it was. I felt Stephane’s eyes on me most of the time and knew he was trying to size me up; occasionally he whispered something into the ear of the woman sitting next to him, who hadn’t been there at the meeting that Pierre had attended, but whose face remained in shadow so I couldn’t see it clearly. At first, I thought she might be one of the Others, but then I couldn’t detect any magic about her.

Peter continually provided English translations, and they seemed to be reasonably accurate, although occasionally Pierre would voice a clarification of meaning. One thing that was different this time, however, was that the plans were becoming more specific. The members of the group were assigned, in pairs, to specific neighborhoods, all lower class and mostly immigrant. Each pair was also given names and addresses of important people in the neighborhoods, who were either to be recruited to help organize, or if they wouldn’t cooperate, to be eliminated. From this point until the signal arrived, each pair was to work at making the assigned neighborhood as unhappy as possible. Any time anything bad happened, rumors were to be fueled that the establishment was behind it. And if there weren’t enough incidents, the members of the group were to create them. That way, when the signal did finally come, the masses would be ready to join in the overthrow of the oppressors. It was all rather frightening, and I wondered how widespread this operation would be when it finally came to pass.

“Peter told me at the party that what he was doing was big,” Betsy said. “He said it would change all of Europe. But he may have been exaggerating.”

I leaned over to whisper in Peter’s ear. “You said earlier that this thing would change all of Europe,” I said, tickling his earlobe with my lips. “Was that really true?” I reached an arm around his waist and hoped Pierre would understand that this was part of the act.

“I hope it is,” Peter whispered back. “I know for sure we have all of France. I don’t know about the rest.”

Stephane cleared his throat and glowered at us. “Peter, dites a ton amie que nous ne n’avons pas de temps pour les affaires de coeur. Apres, peut-etre, mais pas maintenant!”

“Sarah hopes you understand she’s just acting,” Betsy told Pierre.

Peter pried my arm off him. “This is an important action, not time for love,” he said.

“I can tell that,” Pierre told Betsy. “I know how she feels when she’s not acting.” He winked at her and gave her a kiss on the cheek; it was a good thing that fatherly affection was fairly easy to pass off as something else.

After the meeting broke up, Peter offered to walk me to the Metro station, and I couldn’t very well refuse, even if it was in the opposite direction from the bar where Pierre and Betsy were waiting. I figured they could meet me at the station, and I heard Betsy relay that communication to Pierre. Peter escorted me into the station, all the way to the turnstile, where he stood watching me until I was out of his sight. I waited until a train had rushed into the station and on out again, in case Peter was standing by until he was sure I was on my way, and then I waited for Pierre and Betsy. I watched through Pierre’s eyes as they left the bar and collided, almost head-on, with Stephane and the woman who had been with him at the meeting. I hadn’t recognized her, but both Pierre and Betsy clearly did.

“Mildred?” Pierre exclaimed, at exactly the same moment that Betsy exclaimed, “Mother?”

Mildred clearly recognized Pierre but not Betsy, with her restored face. I hoped Betsy would keep the advantage by keeping quiet. “Pierre, what are you doing here?”

“Yes,” Stephane said. “What are you doing here? Why did you take that lovely, stupid wife of yours to such a dive? Why so close to where your daughter was sneaking out to tonight?” Stephane grabbed Pierre’s arm and wrenched it around behind him, causing a painful cracking feeling in the shoulder joint. Betsy took off running toward the Metro station; Mildred tried to chase her down, but Betsy’s youth and athletic training were too much for the older woman’s stamina. She was soon out of sight.

Reeling from the pain Stephane was inflicting on Pierre, I staggered out of the Metro station, meeting Betsy at the entrance. I leaned against her as I caught my breath, until Stephane again yanked upward on Pierre’s arm, with more cracking sounds and feelings. Stars of pain were shooting through Pierre’s body now, and I was amazed that he hadn’t yet passed out from the agony, although I also realized that, as great a relief as passing out would be, Pierre couldn’t afford the luxury; as long as he remained conscious, I could keep track of him.

Stephane marched Pierre back to the building where the salon had taken place, with Mildred in the lead to alert Stephane to passers-by who needed to be avoided lest they realize something was wrong.

“Pierre wants me to tell you he loves you,” Betsy was saying, “although I’m sure he knows you already know that. He wants you to know that whatever happens …”

I snorted. “There will BE no ‘whatever happens,’” I said. “We’re going to rescue him. We just need to figure out how.”


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