2.4 Alenby and Cleopatra at Château Mourey
2.4.1 Alenby, Settled in a Routine, Looks Back
Château Mourey's vegetable garden
Shortly after dawn Monday 23 November 1987
The rising sun cast a pearly glow in the morning mist over the potager, the vegetable garden of Château Mourey. Gaining brilliance as it rose in the sky, it made visible each exhaled breath of a lone, vertically disadvantaged figure, a laborer in a peasant's blue overalls, steadily engaged in the never-ending battle of man versus weeds.
Alenby, however, did not see his efforts as a battle. He liked working in the garden under the tutorage of the kindly yet demanding Jules César. He liked rising early and stepping outdoors at sunrise. He enjoyed imparting the proper back and forth motion to the stirrup-type weeding hoe, and he enjoyed the swish of its horizontal swivel-mounted blade as it sliced just below the surface of the black, friable chumanure-enriched loam. Like rowing a boat, he thought, rowing leisurely by moonlight on a mirror-calm lagoon. As he worked he hummed the melody to the barcarole from Offenbach's "Tales of Hoffman," Belle nuit, o nuit d'amor....
Everything had worked out for him since that bel dì di maio, 4 May, the day he'd been released from Prison Simone Weil. Today begins the week of Thanksgiving, he thought, the last Thursday of November, so it was over six months ago that one had at last stepped out into freedom, gorgeous freedom. How fast time passes when things are rolling smoothly!
Like many a middle-aged American of U origin, he was aware that Thanksgiving denotes an annual feast in which, over the years, people consume progressively more food of progressively lower quality. But the word itself served as a reminder that here in Château Mourey in the universe u he had plenty to be thankful for: green leafy plants such as kale and collards, which he was weeding around at that very moment, and all the other things that were good to eat fresh from the garden; and still others whose flavors were preserved when dried and saved for winter along with the roots and tubers like the beets, carrots, turnips and potatoes that were already stashed in the Château's root cellar. Thanks to the garden, and to a wine cellar well stocked with local cabernet franc, he had almost all that was necessary for the happiness of a gourmet converted to a diet according with science and reason, which is to say totally free of prosubs. As for those necessities not to be found at Château Mourey--sourdough bread, tea (Sikkim, not Assam), black truffles for swill Ducru--he usually found them for sale Fridays at the market in Richelieu.
He gave silent thanks also to Lucrezia and Jules César for taking him in on the rainy evening of that fine day in May, and for helping him become accustomed to living a life in accord with reason and science.
He thanked Lucrezia for making his denim overalls with their reinforced pockets for carrying trowels and pliers and things. Oh, he missed the free and easy feel of woolen garments confected by the gnomes of Number One Savile Row, but the overalls were far more suitable for his new life in u. He appreciated their snug fit about his 32-inch waist, the action cut that left plenty of room for movement, and especially the studded seams that permitted the wearer to remove the lower legs and so convert the garment into suitable wear for his currently favorite recreation and sole means of locomotion--running.
He thanked Jules César for many things but especially for completing his running wardrobe with appropriate protective footwear--a pair of sandals ingeniously constructed from a fan belt and a portion of a rubber tire (Michelin) retrieved from the wreckage of an old stinkpot race car.
Attired in Lucrezia's overalls in their abbreviated configuration, and shod by Jules César's running sandals, Alenby had no trouble running on his twice-a-week visits to Richelieu. And sometimes, when his garden work was done, he joined other runners on long relaxed tours of the pedestrian paths that wound throughout the neighborhood.
But recreational running was not for today. Today was Monday, his day to chauffeur his friend, Curnonsky, on his weekly tour of the Hexagon, and the time was a little past 10 am. That left just enough time to run to Prison Fernand Point by noon. He put away his garden tools, converted his overalls to running mode, put on his running sandals and set off. He had no premonition of the events that were to interrupt his tranquil life at Château Mourey.
2.4.2 Cleopatra, informed and apprehensive
Cleopatra's private office in Château Mourey
6 am Monday 23 November 1987
As was her habit upon rising, Cleo took a glass of Vienne river water bottled under the label Haute Vienne and set to work on her her writing project--currently the second draft of "Paul Ducru Beaucaillou, Herald of Prohibition." Normally she wrote rapidly, with only occasional pauses. But today the words did not come easily. Her thoughts drifted to personal matters.
P Du B had been tense and moody lately, and he seemed to have lost interest in things that usually claimed his attention. Whatever could be wrong?
He had been a little uncomfortable with their living arrangements at Château Mourey, like sharing a bedroom. But that concern had been laid to rest with a visit from her mother along with two of her three fathers. All three had taken an instant liking to P Du B, and all three agreed that the de facto internship with him would only improve her already excellent prospects of securing a Diploma of Motherhood should she be so inclined. (The third father, a lawyer, had already prepared an affidavit to cover up Cleopatra's juvenile record of shoplifting, computer hacking and fraud).
It could not be anything to do with P Du B's feelings for the Cat person, Madame Cava. Their separation had been amicable, and did not have any bearing whatsoever on the funding of the National Science Center's research budget. Nor could it be to do with his friend Aristotle Patras--a tiresome gasbag but personable, and still useful for his influence in the sphere of global politics. At home, too, all was well. Georges was contented, and Lucrezia and Jules César continued to perform their duties to perfection.
No, the unknown factor had to be P Du B's regard for Ada. While he'd never expressed affection for his daughter, his actions had evidenced deep interest in her welfare. He'd never approved of the secret mission the Cat had set up. Perhaps that was what was on his mind...?
Cleo considered asking directly if that was the case, but hesitated. Far better, she thought, to inform herself first. It had been some time, six months in fact, since she had last hacked into Ada Lynch's files. Maybe it was time for another peek....
Cleo was shocked at what she found: Diary entries of a personal nature, apparently vexed to self and nobody else. Reading them obviously unethical. She read on, anyway.
Friday 20 November 1987, about 12 noon---- Well here I am in the lucky last of the observation bases that the Cat assigned me to. Restaurant Le Gardon Frit, a PROFATPOL entrapment place set up to catch well-heeled prosub users, especially Americans because they're clueless about prosubs and easy to blackmail. It's supposed to be a good spot to pick up what's going on in the sleazy nether-world of prosub consumption slash addiction.
Le Gardon Frit--the name's kind of familiar but I don't recall ever being here. They brought me here at night, so I never got to see Le Gardon Frit from the outside. I've been kept in the dark other ways, too. This whole operation is very hush-hush. They've clamped down on all my moves--
But anyway, where I'm sitting here in this little underground dining room, Espace Brillat-Savarin it's called after the 19th Century pre-Pro prosub-porn writer, it's really very chic in the art deco style, mirror walls and all that, and a view through the floor-to-ceiling windows of certain ruminant mammals that were pre-Pro a major food source for humans--cattle, they're called, cows and steers and heifers and the like (I got all that from Green Fedora instruction videos)--contentedly eating grass in a sunlit field. Of course they're not real. The windows are actually HV dioramas....
Well, as I said in previous memos the outlook for the crack-down on primary suppliers of the most dangerous prosubs like meat, milk, cheese, eggs etc--meat in the present instance--doesn't look good. The outlook for the War as a whole doesn't look good. Gaea-awful actually. This morning for instance--hang on, here's the waiter with today's lunch specials.
It wasn't the waiter, it was the chef. Short--guess I should say impressively short--but dimensionally disadvantaged horizontally. Overall effect roly-poly, you might say. Not a guy to get me hot--he's no Alenby--but he's ingratiating as a pigletlet, and kind of persuasive in a low-key way. Name's Picpoul, but everyone calls him Le Cèpe. Talked me into trying substances, and of course I resisted, but when he mentioned the prosub Alenby talked about that time--forget exactly when, so much going on then--but anyway, I was totally, you know...captivated. Sirloin steak à point , I think it's called in English. Anyway, I said to Le Cèpe, 'okay, just this once.' Just this one time, for background experience. As I see it, it's bending the rules for a greater good--know the enemy, sort of thing. I think I'm entitled to bend a rule here and there since I'm sacrificing my personal health and safety in support of the Green Fedoras. Gaea knows I've made plenty of sacrifices lately....
Like my first day with the Green Fedoras, for instance. Since then, except for slight variations--I put all the details in the official record--it's been the same old thing, same old same old over and over. So boring, yet so worrying. So why am I vexing all this stuff to myself? To get the big picture, maybe. Get things straight in my mind. Or just to stay sane....
Anyway, that morning I rendez-voused with the Green Fedora detachment assigned to the rural area on my list, and here as elsewhere, found troops' morale sagging owing to resistance and non-compliance of the indigenous peasant population--polite and friendly to your face but laughing behind your back sort of thing, and always ready to make an odd euro by helping the prosub queen-pins keep out of our sights. The peasants' behavior is annoying and of course it is against the law, so our troops are right to round up the worst offenders and hand them over to the civil authorities.
But I don't blame the country folk. Keeping animals as a source of food is a deeply ingrained tradition, and as they practice it--frugally is the word that comes to mind--it doesn't do a whole lot of harm except to their own health. They recycle most of the animal wastes as fertilizer, either simply by leaving the animal droppings on the ground or by using farm-scale düngermischmaschines. The rest--methane for instance--contribute to global warming, but at the present rate the effects are not likely to show up any time soon. The really big problems arise when outsiders come in and set up prosub factories.
We saw signs of that sort of thing all the time. Today, for instance. The Green Fedoras led me to a cattle-fattening slash slaughter site they had located from observation of vulture activity. Site abandoned a while back, apparently--as usual, perps a couple beats ahead of the troops. Nothing much left of the site except the usual stench of rotting carcasses and entrails, blood soaked into the soil, maggots, sizable lagoon of fecal matter etc. Roofed animal confinement area cleverly camouflaged, hard to spot until you are right on it. Inside, half to one meter deep semi-liquid fecal-soil mix, evidence of animals tightly crowded together in holding pens. Centralized layout and procedures like grain instead of pasture feeding appear designed to maximize unit profit. Maximize unit profit! I must be sounding like one of those dry-as-dust econ biddies, that's what this fracking tour is doing for me! But to continue--
Tests of ground water at several points showed the usual contaminations--growth hormone residues, salmonella, E coli O157:H7. That strain of E coli is the one you get in the guts of ruminants when you feed them on grain like maïs instead of letting them eat grass. Salmonella is the bug you get when you use massive antibiotics to keep sick animals alive until ready for slaughter.... Ah, here's Le Cèpe with my lunch.
Well here I am back again--uh, the steak was...interesting. Brown and crusty on the outside, and okay tasting I guess. But the inside was a let-down. Not really bright red like Alenby said, but kind of pale pink with a grayish cast. Salty, kind of mushy texture. Smelled a little bit like that yucky lagoon, with overtones of vomit. And greasy. I wiped off whatever grease got on my face but I didn't wipe it off my lips because I saw in the mirror it makes my lips shine and show up red--the same color as the inside of the steak Alenby must have had in mind--red and shiny and really, really sexy. Hey, I'm kind of up, maybe I should calm down a notch. Must be the excess-protein rush that meatics and dirty-book writers like Brillat-Savarin to go on and on about. At any rate I feel like a million bucks, despite the let-down from the culinary side of things....
A million bucks, that reminds me-- About those C-notes I got from Alenby. I've been talking to Sotheby's, and they want naturally want proof they're real. When I get out of here I'll get Ari on the case--he's already convinced, and he has cred. Also maybe that good looking young doc at Simone Weil. There must be some sort of medical evidence that Alenby's an alien. They don't make guys that big in u.
Hang on again, it's the chef again, he's bringing in dessert--Riz Impératrice, made with white rice--that's rice with nutrients refined out--plus gobs of cream. Cream by the way is the fat component of cow milk, but it looks and tastes harmless enough. Like greasy pureed banana. If you didn't know already you'd never guess the stuff, cream I mean, was made from something that was mechanically sucked out of a cow--probably a sick cow, too, if it was a factory job. Still, the idea of actually eating it takes a bit of getting used to. Especially if you've taken a look at a cow's rear end lately.
Wish I could get rid of that lagoon smell. Some stinky molecules must have lodged in my nasal passages. Note to self: be like the others, wear a gas mask at the next site.
The million bucks feeling has worn off for some reason. I feel sort, I don't know, sort of heavy. Think I'd better go and lie down now, take a nap. Bye now!
Reading this in one swoop, Cleo nevertheless made a few connections. Alenby, she remembered Alenby. He was the tall man with Ada, a real bec fin, insisted on swill Ducru and I had to run out to the pet-food store to get three servings worth. Le Gardon Frit sounds like something to do with Le Gardon.... The million bucks and alien bit caught her eye but she read on:
Saturday 21 November 1987 about 12:30 pm----Just had a hideous flashback, and Whew! What a morning out there prowling around with the Green Fedoras! We came upon this huge barn sort of thing, no windows and the stench was something out of this universe. An abandoned avian-substance factory, tech-support told us. But exactly what substance they couldn't tell from the outside. Chicken, or maybe wide-breast turkey on fattening slash life support (antibiotics) in preparation for the upcoming American prosub users' feast day known as 'Thanksgiving.' It's coming up soon, I guess that's what made me think of this incident. Anyway the perps were gone, way ahead of us as usual. But to make sure, the colonel gave the order to put on gas masks and head lamps and go in for a look around, 'reconnoiter' was the word she used. So we stove in a door and in we went.
Couldn't see much for a start cause it was dark and the air was thick with dust which tech said was okay, just an stable aerosol of feathers, fecal matter and hormone residues. But when we turned our lamps to the ultraviolet snooper-scope mode we made out a lot of medical waste, syringes and stuff, scattered about in the muck on the floor. Plus heaps of dead birds with maggots crawling over them. I said dead birds but actually a few were still alive, fluttering painfully, making a despairing effort to get away. One of them flopped on its back, stone dead, and using the true-color app I saw it had blue feet--pattes bleues. So this was a bird of the esteemed breed that Alenby was talking about....
Good Gaea! I've just remembered, today is the day Le Cèpe planned to serve roast chicken. Well, I'll order roast something else, like root vegetables....
Well he wasn't keen on my order but I insisted and he ended up with a quite nice collation of roasted carrots, parsnip and get this, salsify if you can believe it. How did he know I adore salsify done that way? Guess we're soul mates sort of thing.
It's nice to be have a soul mate but what I want to know is why are they keeping me cooped up here?
Sunday 22 November 1987----Well, now it's gelled. I know why they're at was bugging me, and that's a blessing. But it's not pretty. It's about Willa 't Hellenbach of NewYorkTimes.com.
The long-awaited shakeup in the Times has finally happened, and and now that the print edition has tanked Willa has more clout than ever. She's going to leverage the popularity of her HV interview show into near total control of the editorial page, so look out all you cloudy thinkers out there! It's going to be a new NewYorkTimes.com now, with laser-like focus on accuracy and clarity. It's gonna be reason and science, like in the days of Edith Bolling. And logic, impeccable logic.
That sounds good, I guess. But not good for me. 'Cause I'm one of the cloudy thinkers. What flows in my veins is sizzling hot blood, not ice water. What controls my actions is intuition and sentiment--love and lust et cetera, not logic. My aim in life is to live it to the max. To squeeze all the juice out of life and then fold.
Anyway the point is, it looks like I am not up to a one-on-one with that chilly zombie Willa 't Hellenbach. Actually I'm not even up to an interview with cute Danny Goodpenny from CapitalNews-HV. When he asked me why we have to have Prohibition, I didn't know. Still don't. 'To have something for the XPROW to advocate the extension of' doesn't cut it.
What I'm getting at here is that for me, getting probed by Willa t'Hellenbach would be so totally unspeakably embarrassing, like getting caught lounging poolside not in the nude! FRIDAY AFTER NEXT! I can't think straight! All I know is I can't face it--got to get outta here!
"Wait, here's Le Cèpe with the plat de résistance...today it's côtelettes d'agneau grillées with noisette potatoes--mmm-mm good. Le Cèpe has been ever so much nicer to me since I gave him my 2CV plugin. Sometimes I wonder if I really want to escape after all....
Cleo read this last entry with mounting alarm. She recalled her own embarrassment when questioned by an unfriendly policeman about one of her shoplifting sprees. How much worse for Ada to face unprepared a potentially career-busting probing from the implacable Willa 't Hellenbach, with the whole universe watching! She simply had to do something. With P Du B's consent, of course.
By early evening, Cleopatra had secured a position as waitress at restaurant Le Gardon, and had accepted Olympe's offer of a room in the hotel. The restaurant being closed Mondays, the two women had time to discuss, over a leisurely supper of Yin-Yang bean soup, the question how to release Ada from her de facto imprisonment.