1.7.1 Cleo's Dream
Aboard Air France Flight 004
About 10 pm Tuesday 1 April 1987
Cleopatra Kirwan lay tense and sleepless in the tiny space of seat 30A on Air France Flight 004 to Paris. It had been a long and busy day for the lively sixteen-year-old Bennett High graduate. A significant one, too--it was day one of the tenure of the "Junior Genius" Research Grant awarded to her by the American Historical Society for her "significant original insights into the history of the Early Prohibition Era." She ought to be totally beat, totally limp and already well into a good twelve hours of solid dreamless. So why was she so on edge?
She had no worries about the research end of it. No question, she was on the right track. Shadowed her from the check-in, darted in front to get a good eyeful, and it was Ada Lynche, all right, the same Ada Lynch as on seat A9 right now. Ducked into the john and dumped that awful gaudy sari thing in the non-recyclables, sauntered out cool as a cuke, nobody the wiser. But she was still tense. Why?
Okay, she reasoned--guilty conscience. It was true, she'd cut a few corners. Faked her age. Fixed Ada Lynch's vex so she got a copy of every outgoing message. Bribed the concierge where she was supposed to be stay in Paris, but had no intention to show up. Okay, a trifle shady, but hey, it was all in the interest of research, wasn't it? Of course it was.... She relaxed.
Drowsy at last, Cleo let her mind slide back to her senior year at Bennett High. It had been awkward in some ways. Younger than the other girls, she was left out of their buzz about boys and stuff. But she'd already mastered all her courses and some assorted APs as well, so academically it was pretty easy. Too easy, really. Bored, she'd started disrupting classes with snippy comments, and sarcasm that at the time she'd thought really, really clever. And when that got old she'd tried other, more dangerous ennui busters, computer crime stuff. Of course the excitement quickly faded....
She'd been on track to big trouble when Bennett High's history teacher showed her a safer yet more exciting dopamine fix--the history of the early Prohibition Era, intertwined as it was with the personal story of its principal protagonist, Edith Bolling.
And what a story that was!--the evolution of Mrs Edith Bolling Wilson, dimensionally disadvantaged Washington businesswoman, socialite and wife of the President, to svelte, magisterial United States President in her own right. President Edith Bolling, battler for Prohibition and, in the eyes of many, more effective than any president since Thomas Jefferson in promoting reason and science as the surest guide to human health and happiness.
An inspiring tale, and one that presented a couple of intriguing puzzles: By what magic did the whale-shaped First Lady transform herself into eel-thin President? By what mental make-over did that worldly woman reinvent herself as nerdy champion of science and reason?
Cleo smiled in the gloom as she recalled how established historians were baffled by these questions, while for her they were a snap. They were about a woman in love, and that was a subject she knew a lot about from reading steamy classics of the romance genre, Collette mainly, in the original French.
With the aid of boodle, a search program just coming into vogue at the time, Cleo quickly found documentary support for her woman-in-love hypothesis. It was all there in old newspapers, hospital records, old handwritten letters and stuff. Sure enough, the lady had a secret lover, a young French scientist about whom nothing was known except his name, Paul D Beaucaillou. Beyond reasonable doubt, Beaucaillou had sired the baby girl born to Bolling on the very day she was elected President--Tuesday 4 November 1924. The baby, named Ada, was immediately adopted by a couple named Lynche....
Satisfied that this scenario accounted plausibly for both the President-elect's genuine if belated interest in science and her sudden thinning-down, Cleo had lost no time writing up her work and publishing it in the school magazine, the Bennett Beacon. The kindly history teacher brought the piece to the attention of the Junior Genius committee, and the award followed.
To Cleo the award was a Gaea-send. She could hardly believe her good fortune! There were so many loose ends to the story, so many juicy questions!
Much depended on the most juicy question of all: Ada Lynche's "Uncle Paul," who kept popping up in her recent vexes--might he be Paul D Beaucaillou? In the sanguine mood of youth, Cleo had no doubt he was. Nor did she doubt that, given the chance, she could worm her way into his confidence and persuade him to tell all.
1.7.2 Ada's Nightmare
Aboard Air France Flight 004
About 10 pm Tuesday 1 April 1987
Polite yet determined, Willa 't Hellenbach insists on an answer. She draws out the confused, stammered response. She waits, elaborately patient, flashing white shark’s teeth in her famous ironic half-smile. Finally, she delivers a brief, dismissive, career-crushing summing-up, devastatingly quotable….
Ada snapped awake, heart thumping. No, it's nothing, she told herself after a moment, just a recurrence of the standard interview disaster dream. But her anxiety lingered. She opened her eyes to the dim light of the cabin. She became aware of the drone of the engines, the chill at her left shoulder from the black cold glass of the window. She adjusted the blanket and snuggled under it, willing herself to luxuriate in the sensation of warmth, in the pleasurable flex and stretch of her body in anticipation of the attentions of her current lover, whoever it might be….
Even so, she couldn’t quite shake off her disquiet. She knew the somehow, some time in the not too distant future, if she were ever to make Czarina she would have to come up with some logical answer to the question, Why do we have to have Prohibition?
But not now. Now was the time to think about her vacation. She forced herself to relax, to doze a little, to imagine a delightful lunch in a secluded country restaurant, in company with a tall man of surpassing beauty of the blond and sinewy genre, murmuring extravagant compliments in that sexy Swedish accent of his. Stig—undependable, but when he showed up--dependably virile Stig….
Ada sprang fully awake. Not Stig—now she was traveling with a different sort of lover, a user, and what’s more a U-person, and big. Alenby, the big guy! She put her fingers to her temples as the reality sank in. She was living dangerously, putting her entire career in jeopardy! The thing now, she told herself, is keep calm. Relax, breathe deeply, calm, calm….
She glanced at the bulky figure asleep under the blanket beside her. Gaea, he’s big, she thought, and she felt an echo of lust. She relaxed a little. It’ll all work out, she told herself. Just a matter of keeping a low profile. She congratulated herself on making reservations at those out-of-the-way places like Pouzay. Restaurant Le Gardon in Pouzay--no one was likely to notice them there. No one, at any rate, with ties to PROFATPOL….
Of course, accidents can happen, Ada mused. Things can go wrong, and you have to be prepared. PROFATPOL roadblocks, for instance. If they were stopped, Alenby would surely cop citations for Substances in that big belly of his. At the very least he'd have to go in for remedial treatment centered on a 21-day water-only fast at the nearest facility of the National Simone Weil Prison. The publicity—just keep calm, calm—the publicity would be gruesome....
Ada struggled with the roadblock scenario. Escape? Low-percentage option, she acknowledged. Her Mercedes had plenty of pep for a hydrogen fuel-cell--hycell--vehicle, but to evade the tough, seasoned PROFATPOL pros in their gasoline-burning stinkpots—no, that simply wasn’t in the cards. She knew the Merc couldn’t outrun them. Alenby wouldn’t be any use at all. Primitive animal that he was, he probably didn’t know how to drive. Escape was out. The real question was how to handle the publicity angle of getting caught with a user….
She grasped at a new idea forming at the back of her mind. Maybe the damage could be kept under control. Better still, maybe this crazy escapade with Alenby could be turned into a career plus. With a little ingenuity it could be depicted as an attempt to get close to society’s problem group, the compulsive users. To find out the why and the how of their self-destructive habits. She would have to get some first-hand experience, ultimately nibble some of those substances that Alenby kept mumbling about in his sleep, like pâté de foie gras--whatever that might be. Weird idea. Weird--and intriguing. Also sickening, but she'd do it in a pinch....
She noticed Alenby moving about a little in his sleep. His bulk settled deeper into his seat, and his arm slid sideways and flopped deep into the province of her window seat 9A.
Ada contemplated the sensation of the hand resting on her knee. Through the fabric of her skirt it felt hot and moist, like a thick slab of freshly-grilled eggplant. And just as inert, she thought with a stab of annoyance. The big lunk ought to be stirred up to the groping stage by now, even in his sleep. She had never had a man so slow off the mark. But then she had never had a Substance user, either.
If Alenby hadn’t been such a big man, Ada would have given up on him right there. But a big man was a big turn-on, and she was determined to fire him up even if it meant messing with medical technology. Surely one or other of her lovers could help out in that department. Several of them, she recalled, were involved in the medical-supplies field, one with an office in Paris....
She took her locket from behind her ear, plugged it into her vex and started her search: impotence, erectile dysfunction, mechanical aids....
After a time—Bingo! One eventuality prepared for. Relaxed now, Ada went back to sleep. Peaceful, dreamless sleep.
Awake again! This time it was the image of Stig the Slashing Swede that disturbed her slumber. Stig was going to be fighting mad about getting bumped, might leverage his status as a sports celeb to get around the rules, bug her in flight.... How best to react? Rage, no question. Men like it when you show spirit, gives them the illusion you care about them....