2.3 Cleo Strikes Milk

2.3.1 Cleo, Georges, and Professor Ducru Take Refreshments

An Alcove in Professor Ducru's Apartment, Château Mourey

 4 May, 1987

Cleo could hardly believe her good fortune when Professor Ducru hired her as second housekeeper at Château Mourey. Here in Paul D Beaucaillou's own home--his own home!--she was perfectly placed to ferret out the juicy bits and set up the ironic twists that are the stuff of a really hot unauthorized bio. And she had the time to bring it off, for her duties were light. Since Lucrezia, the gardener's wife, took care of meals and cleaning, Cleo had practically nothing to do but prepare Georges' pâtée Ducru to that gourmet's taste (heavy on truffles, no grit) at hours to fit his dining schedule: three meals daily, in a special trough located in an alcove off the apartment's kitchen.

In her euphoria, Cleo never paused to ask herself why Professor Ducru should hire a second housekeeper when the first one already performed her duties to perfection. If she had, it might have occurred to her quick mind that P Du B, as she called him, might have tired of the aging, mean-tempered Madame Cava, and might have schemed to follow his friend Aristotle Patras' example and install a younger companion--a "young'un," as he put it in his dialect mode.

But on this morning, the morning of her first day on the job, Cleo' mind was clear of such suspicions. She served Georges' breakfast, and gratified by piglet's contented-sounding slurps she went on to sample a portion she had reserved for her own breakfast. She sat down at the neat little table and spooned up the fragrant broth. The verdict: very nice, with a truffle flavor that, though faint by the spoonful, proved cumulatively satisfying....

Her mood soared. Everything was going her way. Her future seemed bright as the sunshine that flooded in through the skylights. She was going to get the goods on P Du B, write the bio with schlock-pop philo-psychological commentary of the Makes Big & Hanged on his Own Petard subgenre and get it published by a major house and reviewed in the New York Review of Books, get a Harvard scholarship, graduate summa cum laude and then make it in the tough, glamorous business of journalism.

Now to work, she told herself. Step one--find the stash P Du B uses to feed his secret habit, milk or whatever it might be. But it had to be milk, the old guy was a milkic for sure. All the evidence pointed that way. He'd never been caught imbibing or even carrying the stuff, but that merely meant he was been clever at covering up. To catch him, she'd have to be more clever. Not simple--as one of her fathers used to say, nobody got to be the superstar of (insert superstardom category) by being a dope--but she had no doubt she could pull it off.

She looked about the alcove, and her attention fastened on a wall just then picking up the morning light, a wall decorated with postage-stamp sized tiles of brilliant red, blue, white and yellow. They were arranged in a geometrical pattern vaguely like the sort covered at Bennett High in the course "Art in Turmoil: From Impressionism to Abstract Expressionism." The leading exponent of this abstract style, she recalled, was Piet Mondrian (1872-1944). Given a test on the subject, she would have aced it for sure.

But right now getting an A wasn't the point. The point was that those sequences of white, red and blue tiles lined up side-by-side, separated here and there by a single yellow tile, looked like buttons you can press to...make something happen. Might some combination of those be a secret code, key to a secret hiding place? She set her mind to work on that question.

Having learned numbers at her mother's knee, she she immediately guessed at a numerical code where colors white, red and blue represented the digits 0, 1 and 2, while the yellow tiles were mere spacers. And a moment later she picked out, embedded in the larger pattern of the tiled wall, a series of numbers obeying the rule that each was the sum of the two preceding: the famous  Fibonacci series! 

Most likely--so her thoughts ran after she had calmed down a little--most likely the key to P Du B's milk stash was a particular Fibonacci number. But what number would be most likely? Not too big (that would be a pain to punch in) and not too small (too easy). Most likely a Goldilocks number, like 13, the one represented by three red tiles.... 

She paused, heart thudding. Except for Georges' slurping, all was quiet. P Du B was probably busy on his research. Anyway, what did it matter if he caught her pressing these tiles, buttons if that's what they were? She could say it was just an accident....

She pressed red-red-red.

Shock! An alarm sounded, not a wailing siren--more a sour grating noise. Her heart racing, Cleo jabbed the same tiles again in a reflexive attempt to mute the sound. But it got louder, with a male voice, tenor, joining in with what sounded like a shriek of agony. Above the hellish cacophony she heard the clatter of Georges' trotters and felt his raised bristles brush her knees as he galloped to the entrance of the alcove. And turning, she saw the piglet leaping into the arms of P Du B.

Professor Ducru stepped into the alcove, piglet draped over one arm, and pressed a sequence of tiles to silence the alarm. He set Georges down by his trough. "You gave our little friend a bad turn," he told Cleo with a wrinkly smile. "He can't bear Schoenberg."

Of course, Schoenberg! Cleo knew it now, the sound was of "Gurrlieder," that master's seminal twelve-tone work. She stammered something about "Gurrlieder" being a good choice for an alarm, and observing that Professor Ducru seemed to take this as a compliment, ventured to ask how he'd turned it off.

"Simple as 0 1 2 3," he said, smiling again and indicating with a casual wave the tiles white, red, blue, red-white. "You have stumbled on the significance of the tiling," he continued, "but to discover my secret cache--yes, I see from your combative expression that that is your aim, ha ha!--but to discover my secret cache you must first touch in sequence the tiles for two Fibonacci numbers--the only two Fibonacci numbers in the available wall-space, or perhaps any space--that are powers of a number."

I'll go for it, Cleo vowed inwardly. But how to proceed? Calculate and check? No, too dull--not at all the impression she wished to project. Yet to concede defeat was out of the question. Desperately she scanned the tiles again and again, until after what seemed a long time, though it was only a few seconds, she found a likely solution. Thanks to the crystal-clear vision of youth uncompromised by ingestion of milk or other noisome prosubs, she perceived that the tiles of the blue-blue and red-blue-red-white-white combinations shone marginally more brilliantly than the others. Perhaps they had been recently caressed and fondled by the sweaty fingertips of the milkic groping for his fix? She applied her own fingertips, also sweaty, to those tiles, and then held her breath in fear of a disagreeable reaction from P Du B. Or a prospect almost as discomfiting, the return of "Gurrlieder."

But the only sounds were the faint hiss of the doors of two hitherto hidden wall-cabinets sliding open one after the other, and Paul Ducru Beaucaillou's exclamations of in astonishment and admiration at the ease with which she had penetrated his secret. "Your mind works like the wings of the hummingbird," he told her, seemingly convinced that he'd met an intellect equal to his own.

Cleo ignored his plaudits. She'd found the genuine article--tea making stuff in the first cabinet, and a bottle labeled PUS, the tired euphemism for animal milk, in the second--but her mind hadn't worked like the wings of the hummingbird. Her mind hadn't worked at all, really--she'd simply spotted a fault in housekeeping. She was a fraud. She felt flat.

"Now to celebrate your Gaea-given intuition," said Professor Ducru, pretending not to notice her despair. He quickly went through the tea making routine and added a couple of glugs of milk in his cup. "You will join me?" 

Cleo accepted tea, but only to be polite, and declined milk with a politely suppressed shudder. Her triumph seemed hollow, and her vision was blurred by tears of dismay that P Du B had outmaneuvered her by leading her on, clearing the way to the evidence of his milkism, and finally flaunting his habit in her face. Her hopes for smashing journalistic success had crumbled. Where's the juice in a warts-and-all unauthorized bio when the subject unapologetically reveals his warts on page one? 

Cleo pushed aside her cup and saucer, and sat sullenly while Professor Ducru tried to make conversation about the merits of tea, Assam tea in particular, taken with milk as opposed to say, lemon.

"Okay!" she interrupted loudly. "Okay, you know milk's poison. So why do you drink the stuff?"    

She heard the words hanging in the air, and wished she could take them back. How impertinent, how unprofessional! Now he's going to be miffed, she thought, maybe clam up....

But he answered her question. "Habit," he said with a sad smile. "And comfort...."

Cleo sensed some sort of personal reminiscence on the way. Though she'd allowed herself to be nettled at the way he'd effectively forced on her his confession to milkism, still she was enough the dedicated historian to recognize pay dirt coming up. She discreetly checked her vex settings: Recipient, self. Mike, open. In case the P Du B should blab something worth saving, she was ready!


2.3.2 Cleo Maps her Biography

Morning, 5 May, 1987

Her hopes denied for success in the schlock journalism field, Cleo fell into a state of depression that lasted into the night. By morning, however, her mood lifted and she realized her biography of Paul D Beaucaillou--a biography as blabbed by P Du B and so as good as authorized--was actually shaping up nicely. Better rough out something right away, she thought. With Georges working contentedly on his breakfast swill, she activated her sound suppression software and vexed a memo to self:

"Conventional three-part layout. Part 1 title, 'The Young Paul Ducru Beaucaillou'?' No, too tame. How about 'Paul D Beaucaillou, Herald of Prohibition'?

She picked up speed, digging in to her knowledge the historical background to gabble the relevant dates, places and names as her broth cooled. She was on her way!

"His birth (1900) and childhood in Paris, France. Mother a dancer at the Folies Bergère, father a  heavy prosub-using bon vivant--milk derivatives and stuff--died early, apoplexy. Note: Apoplexy = stroke. That's the S in CHAOS AND OUCH? Boodle-check.

"His education. At at home with tutors. Skipped lycée, went straight to Sorbonne. Boy genius chemist, expert on poison gas defense in warfare, technical advisor to US forces under General Pershing (1917). On Pershing's recommendation, enrolled at University of Texas Graduate School.

"His research at UT. Funded by Texas Cowmen's Association. Note: Cowmen = owners of cattle. Note: Cows, female of cattle = domesticated ruminant quadrupeds, historically widely used as food for humans.

"Its Aim and Motivation: Assess accelerated growth, enhanced profitability of carcasses of prolonging milk feeding of young cattle raised for beef. Notes: (1) Prolonged = beyond normal weaning age. (2) Beef = muscles of dead cattle.

"Its Result: Accelerated growth confirmed, enhanced profitability denied. Necropsies showed prolonged milk-fed cattle carcasses riddled with tumors, some cancerous, consequently unattractive to consumers.

"Its Significance: First proof of carcinogenic property of animal milk.

"Cowmen's reactions: Switch research result or get disappeared by KKK. Acronym? Boodle-check.

"P Du B's reaction: Hightailed to Washington and brought his research records to the notice of  Wilson Administration officials.

"Historical significance: First Lady Edith Bolling, appalled by milk carcinogenicity and energized by the amorous attentions of P Du B, pushed through US Prohibition amendment with help of newly enfranchised women (1920). Embarked on her ultimately successful run for US president (1924).

"P Du B's indiscretions: With Edith Bolling's attention focused on her presidential ambition, P Du B indulged in a sordid affair with Edith's daughter Q (not her real name). The couple fell to drinking heavily  in the course of 'bar crawls,' an activity in which loose-living youth of the 1920s defied Prohibition to experiment in ingesting animal milk served in a form known as a 'shake.'

"Issue of the affair: Ada, born 4 November 1924.

Edith Bolling's reaction: Quashed scandal by arranging (1) The baby immediately and secretly given up for adoption in a receptive middle-income family. (2) P Du B secretly deported under a new name, Paul Ducru, and under a new nationality: British."

Cleo heard her voice go wobbly. She had a strange feeling--that she wasn't just telling the story, that she herself was actually in it. She felt for the hero, Paul Ducru Beaucaillou, then only a few years older than herself and just as sensitive and brilliant, frightened sick by the brutish meat-eating Cowmen. She felt too her heroine's pain as she followed the only proper course open to her as president-elect. How awful for Edith to give up her new-born and only grand-child for adoption! And to have the OSS quietly hustle her lover to a distant haven, out of her life for ever and ever....

But she heard P Du B coming , and she cheered up. They were going to have a cup of tea, and a cozy chat about the Fibonacci series and its surprising relationship to the aesthetically perfect shape recognized by the ancients, the golden rectangle. She sensed for the first time the existence of a vast web of exact relationships between numbers that could be apprehended by the human mind but was independent of it. She thrilled to the thought that all mathematical facts--discovered, to be or perhaps never to be discovered--had existed since before the Big Split, since before the Big Bang even, and would exist for ever. She'd never dreamed math could be so fascinating!


Back to work on the authorized biography, Cleo quickly roughed out PDB's adventures following his following his forced separation from his beloved Edith:

He settled for a time on one of the British Falkland Islands, and then on the remote Isle of Skerrick  off the North coast of Scotland. In both places he contrived to continue his research on the carcinogenic properties of milk, using however as his experimental animals sheep in place of cattle. Upon his eventual return to France and his resumption of French citizenship, he published his research results and found a secure place in academia. Out of respect for Edith he never made any public reference to her or to her grand-daughter Ada Lynche. Nevertheless, in the person of Ada's Gaea-father, "Uncle Paul," he paid for her education and gave her an apartment in Château Mourey. 

There, she thought, that's done. That's the framework. All that remains is to put in all the relevant facts and feelings--a matter of a few hours of diligent writing every day. Just a few hours, leaving another few hours to study mathematics....

Next Chapter

Previous Chapter