CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and THIRTY-ONE
Sunday morning — 7:35 a.m.
“You have everything you need?” Benjamin, her host, asked.
Sissy nodded. Her host mother, Claire Martins, gave her a mask to cover her face. Claire was a very exclusive dress designer. When the pandemic threatened, she’d made a line of face masks for their off-the-rack line and pushed it through to stores around the world. Here in Paris, Claire had made beautiful masks for everyday use.
Sissy put on one of these masks.
“My brother is. . .” Benjamin said.
“Late, as usual,” Benjamin’s brother, Dominic Doucet, came into the room.
Surprised, Sissy took a step back. Unaware of Sissy’s discomfort, Dom kissed Claire on the cheek and said hello to his nieces and nephews. He turned to take in Sissy.
“What is it?” Dom asked.
“You look so much like. . .” Sissy whispered.
“Max,” Dom said with a grin. “I look like my mother and so do Max and Alex.”
Sissy gave a nervous nod.
“Are you a. . .” Sissy leaned in to him, “. . . a spy too?”
“A spy?” Dom laughed. “Absolutely. But I have retired. Now, I am a retired civil servant.”
“Really?” Sissy whispered.
Rather than respond, Dom just laughed. Behind him, Claire shook her head. Sissy smiled at Dom’s laugh.
“Do you have it?” Dom asked.
“May I see it?” Dom asked.
Sissy gave him a worried look. Her eyes flicked to Benjamin and then to Claire. It was Claire who understood the nature of Sissy’s concern. Claire nodded. Sissy set her backpack onto the dining table that took up much of this floor of the house. She opened a compartment and took out a package.
While the adults leaned in, Sissy unrolled yards of bubble wrap and then an ancient cotton cloth to reveal a long-knife. Each of the adults made a noise of surprise — a gasp, a suck in of breath, or Claire’s distinctive “Mon dieu.” Used for generations, the grip of the knife was worn by the hands that held it. There was a red square cross made from rubies and highlighted by other precious gems sat on the top of the blade. The edges of the blade where honed to a gleaming edge.
The long-knife was beautiful, and deadly.
Dom put his finger where the blade and hilt met. There was a slight, nearly unnoticeable crust of deep red.
“Blood,” Benjamin said in soft reverence.
“Cool,” Claire’s son, Eugene, said. He lifted his eyebrows in excitement. “Can I use it?”
Claire said a fast flurry of words in French. Sissy was too anxious to follow it. Telling them to get ready for church, Claire shooed the children from the dining table and sitting area.
“Where did you get this?” Dom asked.
Sissy looked at Benjamin.
“You may tell him the truth,” Benjamin said.
“It was sent to me by my sister, Sandy,” Sissy said. “She was given it by the current Grandmaster of the Templars. He said that he discovered it in the Castle Ponferrada.”
“He has the sword?” Dom asked, softly.
“He has the sword of Jacques Molay, if that’s what you’re asking. This is a gift of good faith.” Sissy thought for a moment before remembering what she was supposed to say. “We feel like it’s a rare enough gift to show our sincerity and the genuine nature of our request.”
“Good,” Dom said with a smile. “This is very good. Pack it up!”
Sissy did as requested. A moment later, she and Dom swept out of the house. Claire followed them out with a mask for Dom, which he graciously put it on. They would have taken a metro but Dom was in the “dying from the pandemic” age range. Sissy hailed a taxi, and they took a wild ride to the Louvre.
Sissy was glad to have her feet on the ground. Dom gave her a crazy look, and she laughed.
“Taxi’s in Paris are crazy,” Sissy said in French.
Dom nodded. She could see by the crinkled wrinkles around his eyes that he was smiling. He held out his arm and she let him guide her through the Louvre complex. They were let into the building with his pass. They went down in the elevator until they reached the end of the elevators. Dom found the stairs. They went down, down, down until the air was crowded with the smell of history.
“This way,” Dom said, gesturing to their left.
They went down a cramped hallway. There were stacks of boxes and crates. At one point, they had to move sideways around a white stone sarcophagus carved in the shape of a man.
“Allo?” Dom called.
A man of indeterminate age (50? 100? Likely somewhere in between? Maybe?) came out from the back. He gave Sissy a cautious look but greeted Dom warmly. They went through the litany of concerns — the health of their parents (long dead), their wives (beautiful), their adult children (annoying lack of grandchildren) — before the man turned to Sissy.
Dom introduced her by name, but gave no details about her. The man’s eyes swept over her. He wore smudged glasses held off his intelligent eyes by ridiculously long eyebrows. His clothing was rumpled but of good quality. He looked like he might smell. Sissy’s martial arts teacher in Denver used to tell her that smell was the best indicator of who a person actually was. Dirty clothing has a distinctive smell. Dirty bodies have another smell. This man did not smell. It meant that this rumpled “old man” look was cultivated in order to make him seem uninteresting.
“Ballerina?” the man asked Dom.
“How did you. . .?” Sissy started.
“I have heard of a young woman, an American, who stayed for an extra year at the Opera de Paris,” the man said. “And now this pandemic.”
In near unison, Dom and the man gave a characteristic French-old-man shake of their heads.
“I know Ivan from. . .” the man waved his hand as if it was a long time ago.
“I have seen you dance together. On the computer,” the man said. He looked at Dom, and Dom gave a nod. “Beautiful.”
“He is very talented,” Sissy said.
“As are you,” the man said. “So. . .”
The man raised his long, grey eyebrows and looked at Sissy.
“Dom says you have something for me,” the man said. “Supposed to be Templar.”
“I have a gift from the current Grandmaster of the Templars,” Sissy said.
“Oh, the grand master,” the man said with a mocking emphasis. “And why does such an important man give this gift to me?”
“The Grandmaster is looking to forge an alliance with the Louvre,” Sissy said. “The Templars have a number of historic weapons and art work that they would like to donate to France through the museum. He believes that items made in France and should belong to France. The Templars are a part of France’s complicated history and so should be documented by her historians. The Templars are also going to head out this summer to find the Templar hoard and would like support from the museum.”
“Oh, Templar hoard?” the man’s eyebrows worked for a moment. His eyes flicked to Dom. “This is a joke.”
Dom shook his head.
“This is truth?” the man asked.
“What is truth, sir?” Sissy asked. “I can tell you that I am relaying facts. The Grandmaster of the Templars did give me this knife. He did ask me to speak these words to you. He told me that he is heading out to find the hoard. And, given my knowledge of the man, he will likely find the hoard this summer. Those are facts. Truths.”
“Good answer,” the man said. “What is it that you wish for? Legitimacy?”
“You have heard of the salt mine find?” Sissy asked. “In Poland?”
The man’s head went slowly up and down.
“You have work from the mine here,” Sissy said. “You are looking to authenticate a few paintings, tapestry, and statuary.”
“Not here,” the man said. “But in the Louvre. Yes.”
“The salt mine belongs to my sister, Sandy Delgado,” Sissy said.
The man’s eyebrows shot up again.
“I am Sissy Delgado,” Sissy said. “I can show you my identifications, in case you wish to confirm this fact.”
For the first time, the man gave Sissy true consideration.
“I heard that they found the head of a girl. . .” the man dangled the fact as it was a worm to a fish.
“My sister and her friend found the remains of a head just a few hours ago,” Sissy said. “There are documents with the remains. The entire find is currently with our state archeologist. She and a forensic team will review the remains. We have a process in Colorado that naturally includes the native populations. Everyone is anxious for the results of their investigation. For now, we have no information.”
The man’s head went up and down slowly.
“Show me,” the man said.
Sissy set her backpack on the floor. This man was so intimidating. Her heart racing a million miles a minute, she unzipped the bag. She tried to remember what Seth O’Malley always told her about scary old men. Whatever wisdom there was lost to her panic.
“Do you know Seth O’Malley?” the man asked.
“He is my Godfather,” Sissy said.
She heard the man and Dom speak quickly back and forth. The man was saying something like, “You can’t fault me for being suspicious.” Dom chided the man, and Sissy sighed. The sooner she showed the man the knife, the sooner she would be eating warm croissant back at home with Claire, Benjamin, and their glorious children.
Sissy stood up with the knife.
The man stopped talking. He gaped at Sissy.
“May I?” the man asked.
Sissy set the sword down on a broken chair sitting in the hallway. The man’s hands moved toward the knife, hovered above it, before retreating. His lips separated in a kind of a pant.
“Where. . .” the man started but seemed unable to finish his statement.
“The Castle Ponferrada in a chamber that is hidden to all but the Templars,” Sissy said. “There is a sword which matches this knife. The sword of Jacques de Molay is not a part of this donation.”
The man nodded.
“May I pick it up?” the man asked.
The man’s hands had retracted until they were covering his heart.
“It belongs to the Louvre, now,” Sissy said.
The man swallowed hard. He began to speak. Sissy did her best to keep up. Even though her French was fluent, the man was using a lot of words she didn’t understand. He was speaking excitedly. After a moment, he stopped talking. He looked at Sissy.
“I have looked my entire life for this knife,” the man said. The man pointed with his trimmed thumbnail. “Is this blood?”
“We did not clean the knife,” Sissy said. “We left it as it was because we knew that you would like to authenticate it.”
“And you got this from Templars?” the man asked.
“Yes,” Sissy said. “From the current Grandmaster of the Templars.”
The man mouthed the words Sissy had just said.
“They still exist?” the man asked.
“A number of them were killed recently,” Sissy said. “It’s my understanding that a group families have existed in secret since the 1300s. They wish to move into the light of day.”
The man began to laugh. Dom and Sissy looked at each other.
“It’s like a dream,” the man said. “Come, come, let’s get out of this hallway. I will make you coffee and you can tell me everything.”
“I will tell you what I know,” Sissy said.
“Fair enough,” the man said.
They followed him into a richly appointed comfortable office with a sign that read “Senior curator of French Antiquities” on the door.
Sunday early morning — 1:35 a.m.
Quanshay woke up. She listened.
This house was full of people. Sometimes, she could hear them walking around. Every once in a while, she heard a couple enjoying each other. The kids were always so noisy — laughing, talking, playing. She knew that she would miss the noise when she went home.
Right now, the house was silent.
Royce would be home soon and she would have to drag her children away from their friends and this haven.
She worried that they wouldn’t want to come home. She worried that they would sneak back here. She worried that. . .
Sighing to herself, she got up. She used the bathroom and then grabbed the bathrobe on the end of her bed. She made herself a cup of calming tea and jammed her toes in to some slippers. She made her way out to her calm and quiet garden.
She would miss this too.
She opened the door and saw that someone was sitting on the bench. She’d learned that these friendly people didn’t mind interruption. She cleared her throat.
“May I join you?” she asked.
“I was waiting for you,” Abi said.
“You were?” Quanshay asked.
“You’ve been asking about me,” Abi said. “I thought we could talk. Is now a good time?”
“I. . . uh. . . yes,” Quanshay said. “I’m a little anxious and I. . . Would you like some tea?”
Abi held up a mug of steaming fluid.
“I like tea,” Quanshay said.
“I do, as well,” Abi said.
They sat in an uncomfortable silence. Abi cleared her throat.
“I like this garden,” Abi said at the same time Quanshay spit out, “What are you?”
Abi grinned at Quanshay, and she chuckled.
“I like this garden, too,” Quanshay said. “It’s so private, quiet, and yet the world is just right there.”
“Jake and Delphie made it for Honey so that she’d feel like she was home,” Abi said.
“I haven’t seen her out here,” Quanshay said.
“She’s here a lot,” Abi said.
Quanshay nodded. They fell silent again.
“You asked what I am,” Abi said. “That’s unusual.”
“How so?” Quanshay asked.
“Most humans ask what my name is or where I’m from,” Abi said.
“Your accent is somewhere between colonial Africa and. . .” Quanshay shrugged.
“Why do you wish to have this information?” Abi asked.
Quanshay turned to look at Abi. For a moment, they just looked at each other.
“I don’t know,” Quanshay said. “You look like a black person, but your skin is dark and. . . I don’t know brown or maybe white. Your color changes with the light. I’ve been around a lot of black folks and they don’t do that. I’d guess that these white people don’t know enough black people to notice.”
“That’s likely,” Abi said with a grin.
“Are you a fairy?” Quanshay asked. “Delphie told me that your partner, Fin, was a fairy.”
“He is a fairy prince,” Abi said. “I say this so that you won’t make the mistake of asking him if he’s a fairy. He will puff up and babble about being a prince and how you should respect him and a whole bunch of annoying stuff.”
Quanshay felt a giggle coming up. No matter how she tried to stifle it, the giggle returned. She covered her mouth and giggled. Abi grinned.
“I have met your Royce,” Abi said.
“You have?” Quanshay asked.
Abi gave a nod.
“When you were in Africa on safari,” Abi said. “Honeymoon?”
“We went to Africa to see where our people came from and to go on safari,” Quanshay said. “It was all of the money we had but we had a good time.”
“He’ll remember meeting a dark skinned woman on the side of the road,” Abi said. “I gave him something.”
Quanshay took a shell shaped into a moon from under her blouse. She reached behind her neck to take off the necklace the shell was attached to.
“Is it this?” Quanshay asked, holding the necklace out to her.
Abi smiled. She reached out to touch the shell.
“What is this?” Quanshay asked. “I thought it was ivory so I took it a place to have it evaluated, but they said they’d never seen anything like it.”
“It’s the shell of a creature that used to be on earth,” Abi said. “I told him to say. . .”
“‘This creature was alive and now is long forgotten,’” Quanshay said. “‘Let’s live our lives so well that being alive is the point.’”
Quanshay shook her head.
“It’s the message I keep getting,” Quanshay said. She sighed. “I. . . It’s been very hard.”
“Yes,” Abi said. “These pandemics are awful for humans.”
Quanshay turned to look at Abi.
“You’re not human,” Quanshay said. “You’re not fairy. Is there another kind of being? Mermaid?”
“I love your mind,” Abi said. “So curious. Your son is like this.”
“Which one,” Quanshay said.
“J’Ron,” Abi said. “Smart, curious, funny. They are wonderful children.”
“Thanks,” Quanshay said softly.
“You’ve asked me what I am,” Abi said. “I will tell you if you tell me what you are.”
“Me,” Quanshay said. “I’m a mom, a wife. I. . . do nails. I. . . human. . . Honestly, I haven’t been living my life so that living is the point. I think Royce does that but me? I’m all about homework and cleaning the house and getting dinner on the table and. . .”
“It’s exhausting,” Quanshay said.
“And so boring for a curious mind,” Abi said.
Quanshay gave a guilty nod. She opened her mouth to justify her words and express her undying love for her children but when she looked at Abi, she knew that Abi didn’t care about all of that.
“I am everything,” Abi said. “I am this planet and every living thing that is on this planet. A tiny part of me lives inside of you. Do you know what that means?”
“I am everything,” Quanshay said. “I am this planet and every living thing that is on this planet. And the kids?”
“Every human has a piece of me,” Abi said. “Every creature, plant, blade of grass, bird in the sky, even the smallest of insects — I am life and in that, I am this living, breathing planet.”
The next thing Quanshay knew, she was lying in bed. Surprised, she sat up in bed. There was a tap at the door.
Honey stuck her head into Quanshay’s room.
“They’re coming home,” Honey said.
“Really?” Quanshay said.
“They’re landing in a few minutes,” Honey said. “They’ll be home by Monday.”
Quanshay got out of bed and started jumping around the room. Honey joined Quanshay in the joy. They laughed and cheered until Quanshay stopped jumping around.
“We have to go home,” Quanshay said.
“Why don’t you get dressed first?” Honey asked. “Take your time. We’ll talk about what’s next.”
Grinning from ear to ear, Quanshay nodded. Honey pulled the door closed.
Royce was coming home and her life was going to start a new.
Smiling to herself, Quanshay went to shower and get ready.