Thursday, April 19, 2012
Fiesta of Smoke: Calypso’s Apartment, Place des Vosges
Today’s post is an excerpt from my novel in progress, Fiesta of Smoke. In this snippet, Calypso has disappeared and the newsman Hill is attempting to track her down.The manuscript for Fiesta of Smoke now numbers over 1000 pages and I’m working hard on the closing scenes. So, back to writing. I hope you enjoy today’s excerpt!
For those who may have missed them, a synopsis of Fiesta of Smoke can be found on the January 5, 2012 post, the Prologue, on January 8, an introduction to the protagonists Calypso, on February 3, Javier, on February 20 and Hill on March 2; Calypso and Hill Dine was posted on March 14; More of Calypso and Hill, on March 30; and More of Calypso and Hill – 2, on April 10.
. . . .
Hill expected to have to half carry Madame Pouillon up the steep, curving stairs, so ancient and vitiated did she appear. However, she went up the two flights with the alacrity of a cricket, leaving Hill panting in her wake. By the time he gained the landing of the duexième étage, she had the door to Calypso’s apartment open.
“She owns the entire third floor,” Madame Pouillon said, holding the door open for him. “It’s a very nice apartment,” she added proudly.
The room Hill entered was a perfect exemplar of early seventeenth-century architecture, long and narrow, with a low ceiling, windows at the end giving onto the street, and a marble mantle framing a small fireplace. Orderly, it would have been a lovely room.
The degree of disruption alarmed him. Rugs were pulled up, sofa cushions slit and books pulled from their shelves into helplessly splayed heaps. He bent and picked one up at random -- Ombre et Soleil, the poetry of Paul Eluard -- and it had been so badly manhandled that the center pages fell out with a thunk.
“Oh non, monsieur!” Madame Pouillon shrieked. “You must touch nothing!”
“But, what possible difference . . .” he broke off, gesturing around them at the incalculable mess.
“Yes . . . but no. You must not touch Mademoiselle’s things. On this I insist!”
Hill nodded genteelly, trying to keep down his frustration. He had to work fast, before the old bat insisted he leave altogether.
“It will take some time, Madame, to understand what has happened here. Please let me work in silence for a while.”
The old woman twitched nervously and went to stand by the windows, looking down into the street, obviously expecting the instantaneous epiphany of Mademoiselle Searcy.
He began with a quick survey of the entire apartment. In the bedroom the bedclothes had been pulled onto the floor and the mattress slit. Batting and foam lay about the room like a heavy snowfall. Calypso’s clothes were ripped from the closet and lying in a heap. All the drawers were hanging open and underwear, socks and scarves lay scattered underfoot.
In the bathroom it was the same story -- a glass-fronted cabinet had been overturned; bath salts and perfume pooled on the white tile floor together with beautifully wrapped soaps and the shattered fragments of cream jars.
The kitchen showed signs of hurried sweeping up. Shards of ceramic canisters protruded from the trash and remnants of rice, coffee and some kind of whole grain lurked in the corners and under the kitchen table. In front of the open door of the refrigerator lay a small pile of rotting vegetables, jars of condiments and meat still wrapped from the butcher’s, now stinking badly.
There was a small guest room, similarly devastated. The only other room was a large library that Calypso clearly used as an office. Fighting his way to her desk through a blizzard of ripped pillows exuding goose down, he began a quick assessment of the papers that were scattered there. Many of them held important information -- her bank statement, telephone bill and even her French driver’s license all lay in trampled piles, along with handwritten notes for what was apparently a novel in progress.
The damage was particularly intense in this room. Floor-to-ceiling bookcases had been ransacked, art objects smashed, paintings slashed, as if in this final room the vandal’s frustration had reached a killing frenzy. Hill gazed sadly at a lovely Louis Quinze bronze doré clock smashed on the parquet, its curved enamel face scarred by the horseshoe shape of a boot heel, its gilded hands bent, its glass shattered.
Whatever they sought, they didn’t find it, Hill decided. Unless . . . the thought hit him like lightning. “Oh shit!” he muttered, turning back to the living room.
“Madame Pouillion!” he shouted, startling the little lady who was still at the windows, white-haired, wide-eyed and fiercely vigilant as a Pomeranian. “Was Cal . . . Mademoiselle Searcy . . . are you sure she wasn’t here, at the time of the break-in?”
In the moments that it took the old woman to formulate a response, visions of Calypso putting up an heroic battle throughout the devastated apartment filled Hill’s mind: maybe she was in bed asleep when they surprised her by ripping off the blankets; she fought them, hanging onto and overturning furniture; swept objects to the floor as her desperate hands groped for any kind of defensive weapon . . .
“Oh non, monsieur,” he heard the little woman say at last. “Mademoiselle Calypso did not arrive until several minutes later. Je suis sûr et certain.”
“And she seemed perfectly unharmed?”
“Oh, yes, she was fine. Of course, when she heard what had happened she became very upset, but . . .”
“What, exactly, did she say, Madame Pouillon? It’s very important. Can you remember what she said, when she realized what had happened?”
Madame Pouillon pulled a hankie from the sleeve of her sweater and rubbed her nose, reflecting. “No,” she said, at last. “No, I don’t remember.”
Hill was relentless. “There must have been something -- anything. Something that made you stop and wonder, later, when you had the time and calm to think about everything . . . ”
Madame Pouillon carefully folded her handkerchief and in one deft, habitual gesture, slipped it into her sleeve, again. “Well . . . there was one small thing. I found it curious, when I thought about it over supper that night.” She paused, again, oblivious to Hill’s impatient shifting from foot to foot. “She said . . . ,” the old woman recalled, turning to glance again into the street, “when she first saw all this . . .” She turned to gesture toward the ruined room. “She didn’t know I was there, behind her . . .”
Hill was ready to pick her up and shake the information out of her, like coins from a piggy bank.
“She was in the library -- such a terrible mess, non? I have never seen the like -- and I followed her in. And she took one look and then . . . ” The old woman shook her head in mystification, “ . . . she whispered, ‘You bastards! You’ll never find it. Never!’ And then I tiptoed away. I should not have heard that, I think.” She gave Hill a hard, imperative look. “And you must never tell her I told you.”
“Oh, I would never tell her that,” Hill assured her hastily. And then it was his turn to blush. “I mean . . . that is . . . should I ever meet her, of course . . .”
Madame Pouillon continued to stare at him with her jet black, obdurate eyes. Then she tossed her head curtly, gesturing toward the door and Hill was only too glad to accommodate.
. . . .
Hill had the cab deliver him to a brasserie not far from his apartment, a favorite haunt of his where the atmosphere was welcoming and the rabbit stewed with mustard, fava beans and baby onions was exquisite. He had some hard thinking to do.
He had seen his share of tossed rooms in the course of his career. There was a certain order that professionals used which was entirely absent in this case. Calypso’s apartment showed, rather, signs of a kind of frenzied rage or adolescent disappointment.
Clearly the vandals weren’t seeking information about Calypso, as they’d left heaps of it lying on the floor around her desk. No, they were looking for an object, a thing. He considered the drug angle and rejected it. He would lay money that Calypso Searcy was no drug runner -- and he was not a betting man. Some kind of information, then -- a videotape, a computer disc? Possibly.
Almost as mystifying were his own missteps: how had he let it slip to the concierge that he knew Calypso? How had he neglected to call Calypso’s publisher or even to consider finding her book and reading it? Was he losing his edge? Or worse, was he in that state of demented altered consciousness most to be feared -- love?
He let his mind rummage through her apartment, righting overturned chairs and re-shelving books. Restored to order the rooms would be beautiful. With their subdued walls of pale blue-gray and comfortable seating upholstered in rose-colored Toile de Jouy, the walls of books and vibrant paintings, they would have a simple, uncluttered elegance that was both sophisticated and utterly feminine.
In a less crazy world they might have spent some pleasant evenings by the fire, talking books and music and sharing their life stories. It was such an enchanting vision that Hill had to turn from it. How long had this deep longing for a home been lurking secretly in his psyche? And what was it about this damned woman that kept exposing the most vulnerable and well-guarded aspects of his being?
Over coffee and a brandy he pulled his prize from his inner coat pocket and smoothed it on the white linen tablecloth: Calypso’s telephone bill. There were a number of long distance calls on it and he would check those first. Local calls were also listed and, because they were few in number, he decided he would track down each of them and speak with the people involved, directly -- right after he went out and purchased a copy of Calypso’s blockbuster, The Milford File.
A sense of urgency was growing in him. The workday was just beginning on the west side of the Atlantic. He could spend the evening tracking the numbers there. In the morning, he would start ransacking Paris for anyone who might be able to give him the smallest hint of what had happened to Calypso Searcy.
Posted by Suzan at 7:19 AM