1.21 Alenby Abandoned

1.21.1 Alenby and Ada Enjoy the Water of the Vienne

Château Mourey, Chezelet

About 7 am Friday 4 April 1987

 Ada leapt out of bed with a cry of "Sun's up! Plunge-in-the-pool time!" and after divesting herself of her sole article of nightwear--as before, Alenby's pajama top--she ran to the pool and dived in. Alenby followed at a sedate pace, murmuring one of his mottos: "Jack-rabbit starts waste fuel."

He paused at the side of the pool, watching her swim laps. Excellent style, he noted. Long, powerful strokes, classic scissors kick that sounded like distant thunder. He'd mastered those skills as a youth, well enough at least to make the Rowan Hamilton freestyle relay team, and serve as the "sport" requirement for the Rhodes. Might he regain them now? He thought he might. She made it look so easy....

He dived in and swam the length of the pool, made a leisurely turn off the wall, all the while maintaining correct form, swam back again. Enough for now, he told himself, no use overdoing it. He hauled himself out of the pool and sat on the edge, feet dangling in the water. He closed his eyes and listened to the rhythmic surge and rumble of Ada's strokes as she continued to swim lap after lap.

Presently he felt something nudging and nibbling at his feet, and looking down he saw dozens of minnows jostling to get at the wads of dead skin that had long accumulated between his toes despite his diligent use of Nodor, the athlete's foot remedy recommended by four out of five of his podiatrists. But recently, yesterday in fact, he’d noticed  the stinking excrescences had started to slough off, and now the minnows were making a meal of them. He couldn't help thinking it was some sort of symbiosis between his toes and the minnows. Wisdom of nature sort of thing, Gaea and all that. Primitive nonsense of course, but harmless....

His thoughts drifted to the previous day. That hapless mixed-up girl--Anastacia Oupia, or Ana. One thing had stuck in his mind, a remark of Ada's, not about the girl but about the girl's mother. You look into her eyes and you see nothing there, like looking at death. With a mother like that, it was no wonder Ana wasn't a natural Dipmom. No wonder she needed a sexmentor to warm her up, get her ticking over smoothly.

It struck him suddenly--he'd recalled Ada's words spoken, not only with regard to Ana's mother, but Olympe's. He felt a painful yearning then to be with Olympe, to be her belated sexmentor, however inadequate for that role....

He noticed the absence of the sound of Ada swimming, and then she was in fact beside him, hopping about  on one foot shaking water out of her ears. "Breakfast time!" she said.

***

They took breakfast on the terrace. The ascendant sun had begun to burn off a light morning mist, a sign of a clear spring day ahead. They felt exhilarated, still glowing from what Ada called their "plunge" in the chill water of the Vienne. It occurred to Alenby that, as universes go, u was not all bad. At least the part of it enclosed by the stone wall of Château Mourey had much to recommend it. The coffee, for example--today an  espresso with a voluptuous crema--seemed quite beyond reproach. He wondered aloud how such a close approach to perfection could be achieved without apparent effort.

"Oh, that's Lucrezia," Ada replied with a laugh. "She's a perfectionist, always busy but never seems in a hurry. She looks after everything inside the place. Plus, she takes care of the ducks they have to keep garden pests at bay--the slug patrol, she calls them .  Always ahead of the game--for instance she had today's shopping list already made out this morning, and--you can depend on it--complete and correct in every particular. Of course she couldn't manage without her husband. Jules-Cézar, now, he's the handyman--can fix anything--and the gardener. He makes sure there's a steady flow of vegetables in season, 'to keep Professor Ducru's mind at peak efficiency,' as he boasts. He's the opposite type from Lucrezia. Boisterous. He's as efficient as she is, but he must make a big noise about everything. They live in the little cottage out back, the gardener's cottage.... You'll want to get to know them if you stay on here after our contract expires."

"Our contract? You mean, on the flight over--" "That's right," Ada said, touching her locket. "It expires--Gaea! How time flies. Anyway, it expires at 1:30 this afternoon."

"Yes, but isn't this a bit sudden. I mean, for you to give me the brushoff just as we're getting used to each other--getting used to our respective foibles like your wanting to sleep in my pajama top?"

"No, it's not sudden for me, and I am not giving you the brushoff. It's just that I don't like getting used to my lovers. I want to get used to being surprised the next time I have a contract with them. By the way, you can keep the pump. Maybe some time you will give me a surprise by not needing it. Oh look at the time! We have to hustle--the market closes at noon. Georges is coming with us--he loves going to the market--and I have to get him ready. I got him a new neck ribbon, and he's going to just love it, I know!"

1.21.2 Cleo Sights Professor Ducru

 Kitty Kat Salon, Place du Marché, Richelieu

10:30 am Friday 4 April 1987

Cleo hustled to fill yet another order: Same again: Rhum à l’émulsion de soja, fort, or in other words rum ’n’ emulsified tofu, good n’ strong. According to her boodle search, emulsified tofu looked just like animal milk. Animal milk, or pus, to use the accepted euphemism. And the customers were probably milkics, many of them. Milkics on maintenance, trying to kick their habit....

Newly installed behind the bar in Madame Cava’s Kitty-Kat Soyfood Salon, the young waitress had to concentrate to get each order exactly right. Rhum à l’émulsion de soja, fort meant two dashes rum, fill up with the white hi-fat, hi-protein, low-nutricity pus-lookalike goop.

"Voilà!" she said, sliding the tall glass across the counter.

She’d aimed for a nice bright waitress-type tone, but her voice lacked its usual pizzazz. Cleo frowned. What a drag, worrying about milkics and stuff! She could have kicked herself for getting into the business of selling borderline harmful substances.  How much happier she’d be working in a nice ordinary totally legal restaurant like Les Dhuits! Or the one she’d passed up the previous day, Le Gardon....

But she wasn’t just a waitress, she reminded herself, she was a historian. Or an investigative journalist, depending on how things worked out. And in the Kitty-Kat she’d secured an ideal vantage point from which to observe the comings and goings of persons of interest, including the one person of particular interest. Incidentally, it was getting late. Why hadn’t Dr Lynche's Uncle Paul, alias Paul Ducru Beaucaillou, shown up already?

She took an order for two servings of strawberries marinated in Grand Marnier, with a topping of mint-perfumed whipped tofu. She carefully charged the blender, touched the button and then let her thoughts drift to the whirr of the machine.

Apparently something had gone wrong. According to her latest intelligence, Uncle Paul invariably appeared in Kitty-Kat early each Friday morning, thence to mount the stairs at the back of the salon that led to Madame Cava’s first-floor apartment. She considered various possibilities. He’d come in all right, but in some clever disguise.... The truth of the matter never occurred to the young investigator: Uncle Paul, bored with his long-time paramour and distracted by reports of promising research developments in the genetic modification of mushrooms, was simply running late.

Cleo spooned whipped tofu over the strawberries, closed her eyes to savor the icy scent of crushed mint, and when she opened he eyes again, there he was! A wiry, quick-moving geezer in a George Washington style knee-length jacket-knickers combo, medium heels--it simply had to be him. He did not enter the Salon proper, but scampered directly up the stairs leading to the doorway to Madame Cava’s apartment. According to her Advanced Primate Reproductive Protocols course at Bennett High, the flashy outfit was a sure sign of a male bent on enticing a female into mating activity, definitely not a repairman come to check on the refrigerator or the ngermischmaschine. Another tip-off: the snatch of music as the door swung open, Du bist der Lenz from "Die Walküre," reportedly one of the subject’s favorite songs! And to round out the identification, aside from a lot of wrinkles he looked just like the guy shown accepting the Légion d'Honneur in that old black-and-white picture in Le Monde! Had she not been on duty behind the bar, Cleo would have let out a whoop of triumph.

But of course she was on duty, and her customers were becoming restive. Reverting to the manner of her new profession, she hastened to serve them: "Mesdames ’sieurs, fraises Grand Marnier au purée de tofu chantilly à la menthe."

"Voilà!" she added with even more than her usual pizzazz.

 

1.21.3 Alenby, Ada and Georges at the Market—and the Kitty Kat Salon

Place du Marché, Richelieu

About 10 am Friday 10 April 1987

"Steady, Georges!" said Ada, stooping to pat the piglet’s shoulder. "That’s right, trot along beside me like a good little piggy-wiggy, and later we’ll have a nice dish of swill, and strawberries for dessert."

She half turned to Alenby, who was following three steps behind on the narrow sidewalk. "Excuse me, Alenby, Georges always becomes over-eager as we approach the market. Not that I blame him—I feel the same way, especially the market here in Richelieu. Ah, here we are...."

The couple—or threesome, counting Georges—passed from the chilly morning brilliance of the outdoors, through the wide-arched entrance and on into the dimness of the seventeenth-century covered market. After pausing to allow their eyes to adjust to the comparative gloom, they joined the crowd of shoppers sauntering the broad central thoroughfare, eyeing the produce stalls to either side.

"Hmm, look at those strawberries," Alenby said. In the last few days his appreciation of strawberries had sharpened considerably. "Gorellas, large, delightfully aromatic though as yet slightly under-ripe."

"You’re right, Alenby, they’re magnificent. We should get four." Georges, sitting by the heel of his mistress’ right sandal, grunted a quiet protest. "Six, I mean. Six, s'il vous plaît—" Alenby handed her one of the several string bags he was carrying, and she held it open to receive the plump fruit.

He took the bag and they moved on, stopping at different stalls, chatting with merchants, buying produce. They soon filled the bag, and another and another. Until the last purchase of the morning: "Deux kilos de truffes—deux euros cinquante? Merci, au revoir, Madame!"

The gourmets emerged from the market-place into the pale sunshine of the square. Ada walked ahead, leading the way toward where they had left the car. Georges ambled a half-step behind, and Alenby, burdened with several bulging string bags, brought up the rear.

He narrowed his eyes against the brightness. The bags were heavy. He was even more pleased than before to have found a convenient parking spot. He’d been somewhat dismissive of Ada’s claim that polyandry had eased the universe’s parking problems, but now he saw its virtues.

"That’s the entrance to Her Extreme Lowness’ Soy-food shop," said Ada, pointing across the square. "Her apartment is on the floor above."

At first the words emblazoned on the red and white striped awning over the doorway—KITTY KAT SALON—struck Alenby as inconsistent with the dignity of the lady’s position as a stateswoman. But then he recalled that in France, politicians no matter how prominent, generally maintain business interests and a political base in their home towns. No doubt Madame Cava was the mayor of Richelieu.

As they approached the Kitty Kat Salon, AdaPara to be inserted: Ada remarks on the penchant of the elderly to loud music.

"Loud music--you mean...rock?"

"No, HVO Minus Two. That's opera performance on HV with two visual personages missing, so you and your partner can step into the action and sound-synch the libretto if you want to. Its devotees like it loud, and to compound the nuisance they like it totally untamed by sound-canceling technology. Ugh, those loud passages from Wagner's "Ring." They're earsplitting! Like the hunting scene in "Götterdämmerung," for example."

"You mean, I suppose, that passage in Act Three Scene One where the tenor, baritone and male chorus assemble in the dark forest to hunt for boar?"

At the word "boar," Georges looked up, whimpering in alarm. "No, Georges, it’s all right," said Ada soothingly. "Now, be a good little piggy-wiggy...."

She half-turned to Alenby. "How implausible! Why would they go into the forest to hunt about in the dark for a b-o-a-r, when they could find a perfectly nice one in the local pet shop? No, they were hunting for mushrooms!"

So engrossed were the two humans in their discussion, that they failed to notice that Georges had surreptitiously detached himself from them.

Even Ada was slow to notice Georges’ defection. By the time she did so, the piglet was trotting across the cobble-stoned road, heedless of the cries of passing runners swerving around him, and heading towards the red-and-white striped awning of the Kitty Kat Salon.

"Good Gaea!" Ada cried, "Georges has such acute hearing--he must have recognized Papa’s favorite love ditty--yes, I hear it now--that dreadful duet from 'Siegfried!'"

"Excuse me, I believe you mean 'Die Walküre—'"

Agitated, Ada ignored the correction. "I should have guessed—he’s in the village on a romantic assignation with Madame Cava. They’re in her apartment above the Salon, and Georges—" Gathering up the skirt of her bronze two-piece, she began to run.

"Georges, heel!" she called, but the piglet ignored her and broke into a gallop. Ada sprinted after him, gaining fast but not fast enough to catch up. Her fedora fell off but she kept running.

Alenby picked up the hat and, following as fast as he could, saw first Georges and then Ada pass under the sign and through the entry-way, up some stairs--

He arrived at the bottom of the stairs in time to see the first-floor door open to reveal a scrawny figure—Professor Ducru, surely—smiling, arms outstretched. He saw the piglet leap up into that welcoming embrace, and he saw Ada slip through the door just as it swung shut.

1.21.4 Alenby's and Ada's Paths Diverge

Kitty Kat Salon, Richelieu

About 11 am Friday 10 April 1987

Alenby stood there for a moment, still holding his bags of produce. The he put them down and sank into the place at the semi-circular counter nearest the foot of the stairs. A suitable station at which to await the return of Ada and Georges, he thought. But that might take a while. What now?

The answer came in a voice seemingly bubbling with youthful high spirits, the voice of Cleo, the waitress he remembered encountering at Restaurant Les Dhuits:

"Café à l’émulsion de soja, Excellency?"

A soothing prospect, he thought, to be attended by this ebon nymph, now officiating, it would appear, in the cool, damp-seeming dimness of the Kitty Kat Salon. Yet wasn’t there something improper in her suggestion? He glanced at his watch. Yes, quite improper.

"Excuse me, Mademoiselle," he said, "but if I am not mistaken this café à l’émulsion de soja is white coffee, and surely it is one of the accepted conventions of civilized society that white coffee is served only before 10 am o’clock."

"But Excellency, this is a soy-food bar, and soy-food bars are not frequented by civilized—I mean, in soy-food bars white coffee’s okay any time!"

Alenby glanced around. There were only a few other customers, each slumped by herself in silent surrender to the blandishments of soy products. Perhaps the young lady’s right, he thought.

"In that case," he said, affecting an off-hand manner to cover his unease, "café à l’émulsion de soja." He looked at his watch again. It was definitely after ten.

The girl glided away and returned almost immediately to set down on the table a tray bearing jugs of hot coffee and soy-milk, and a large cup. She picked up the jugs and directed simultaneous streams of the steaming liquids into the cup. "Voilà!" she breathed, stepping back a pace.

Without even waiting until it was properly tepid--like most gourmets, he disliked coffee at all hot--Alenby took a sip, and, after a pause for reflection, another. He closed his eyes. Hmm, he was right, the flavor behind that bland curtain of emulsified tofu owed more to robusta than to arabica. Still, he enjoyed it, as he always enjoyed the second-rate provided only that it was good of its kind.

Time passed. One by one the customers rose and slunk away. Another came in, a heavy, hard-faced woman a black suit of quasi-military cut. 

Alenby ordered another coffee: "Same again, my good young woman." Cleo again poured the black and white liquids to mix in the cup, this time with a flourish enhanced from extra practice. "Voilà" she said, but before she had time to add the exclamation mark she suddenly cocked her head, backed away and vanished. A moment later Alenby looked up to see Ada on the stairs. She was carrying Georges in her arms.

As she came closer he saw that her face bore the sort of half-frozen expression that meant, according to his experience with the weaker sex, that she was about to say something he didn't care to hear. Something along the lines of his ex-wife, Blanche de Noire, saying "Alenby, the garage is a mess, please tell Miguel to clean it up this minute!"

It wasn't quite that bad. Still, "I am leaving you, Alenby" was bad enough. Quite a blow, actually.

"I have conferred with Her Extreme Lowness," Ada went on, "and she has given me an assignment of vital importance to the Green Fedoras, our expeditionary force in France, and to my chances of securing the Czarinaship. This is something I must do in the service of Gaea, and it is something I must do alone. You will remain at Château Mourey. Georges will stay there with you, and you will attend to his needs." She put the piglet down on the floor, where he remained with his pink-and-beige snout drooped in an attitude of dejection.

Alenby became aware that his mouth had fallen open. He closed it.

"Now, Alenby, you’ll need money. Here’s a Crédit Suisse ATM card. Be sure not to lose it. On second thought, give me your wallet, that way at least I’ll know the card is safely...now all you have to remember is not to lose your wallet."

Having thus relieved Alenby’s of his useless driver's license, credit card, and a few other items that might serve to identify him as a visitor from the alien universe U or the Red Baron or both, she handed the wallet back.

"I’ll need the car," she went on. Kindly hand me the keys."

He did so.

"Thank you," said Ada. "The ATM identification number is 2537. Withdrawal may be made only for reasonable household domestic expenses at Château Mourey, with a daily maximum of, oh, 1000 euros, starting tomorrow or whenever you resume residence. Goodbye." She left.

"Wait!" Alenby cried, "Uh, what was that number again? At least let me write it down—"

"Not necessary, Excellency," murmured Cleo, having silently positioned herself nearby. "The number is easy to remember. It is made up simply of the first two pairs of prime numbers of the form (p, 2p+1). They're, known as Germain pairs, in honor of the mathematician  Sophie Germain."

"Really?" Alenby echoed gratefully. He didn't comprehend that (p, 2p+1) part, but it didn't matter, he could always ask Cleo about it later.

He felt a warm muscular mass bearing on his ankle: Georges, obviously wishing to be consoled. But before he could so much as give Georges a friendly pat on the shoulder, he was startled to see Cleo suddenly dart forward and sweep the animal up in her arms, provoking it to loud squeals of distress--squeals that became louder and more anguished as Cleo, still holding the animal in her arms, flew up the stairs to the door of Madame Cava’s apartment. He started to follow but stopped and watched helplessly as the door opened to let Cleo and Georges pass through, then slammed shut behind them.

Questions crowded his mind: What was Ada up to? What was Cleo up to? What were those germane numbers again? 

And upon realizing he was alone, without a single friend in the entire universe, he clapped his hands to his temples and fell forward, elbows on the counter, groaning aloud the most agonizing question of all: "What about lunch?"

***

The answer to that last question came from the woman in the black suit, now stationed at his side.

"Excellency, I have the honor to announce you under the arrest," she said, shoving a PROFATPOL badge in front of his face. "Posession of more than 99 grams of Assam tea, an ancillary substance. By consequence, you will take the lunch in prison.

"Prison Simone Weil," she explained with relish at his bewilderment.

Next Chapter

Previous Chapter

CONTENTS