It would be weeks before I would see Monique again. Our encounter in Paris had been but fleeting seconds. The night had passed quickly, too many meetings, then racing through Paris to board the train at Gare de l'Est.
I casually glanced out of the window; small white clapboard houses appeared and disappeared like a fish and bobber; a virtual metaphor for our lives. I chose the express train from Paris to Strasbourg, it was fast, but not made for sight seeing.
Sometime in the early morning hours the train had paused at Nancy, tourists and business people paraded through the aisles. I feigned sleep, hiding my face in a floppy tan hat.
A woman stood in the aisle next to my row. “Cette place est-il prise monsieur?”
I looked up briefly. “Non madame vous pouvez vous asseoir là-bas.” She had asked to sit in the seat next to me and I obliged. The two seats across from us also filled. I questioned her choice, I had been in the same clothes all night, and must have looked unkempt. She on the other hand, appeared too well dressed for coach.
The train arrived in Strasbourg and most of the passengers crowded for the door. My seatmate disappeared amid bags and overcoats; however, she left behind an addressed envelope. It had my name, and a Strasbourg address.
I checked in at the Victoria under my traveling name and found my friend Jacques. “Jacques, look at this envelope. Who knows I am here?”
He smiled. “Monsieur, the address is the museum. I will ask about.”
“Quietly Jacques.” I left the envelope in his hands and found my way to my room for some needed rest and a bath. My luggage was waiting in Brussels, but I always carried a change of clothes in my satchel.
An hour later I was feeling refreshed. There was a knock on my door.
“Monsieur Garris,” Jacques’ called from behind the door.
I answered immediately, fearing the worst.
“Monsieur,” he said again, “Mademoiselle Charlotte Corday, requests you join her for a birthday reception at Musee de l’Oeuvre Notre-Dame.”
“Mademoiselle Charlotte Corday? I am afraid I don’t know that name, though I am honored. And, my friend, I hardly have clothes for an event at the museum.” I was expecting contact from a Countess, and that was not the name I remembered.
“Oi monsieur,” his eyes twinkled. “You found her niece’s birthday card on the train, she would like to repay you. I can arrange for your clothing.” His words were couched.
“You think I should? It was hardly a birthday card.”
“Oi monsieur. It is necessary. And you are expected.”
I had imagined that the hotel would press and clean my suit, but was surprised when called to the tailor’s shop for a fitting. Four hours later I was on a twelfth century street heading for the museum. The tuxedo was a perfect fit and the overcoat I was given was lined with fur.
“Monsieur Garris,” a soft French voice at the museum entrance greeted me. Jacques must have given my name to the hostess.
“Oi,” I replied.
“Monsieur, we speak English,” she said stepping from the shadow and extending a hand. “I am Countess Anne Charlotte Corday d'Armont, welcome to our city and thank you for coming to my birthday gathering.”
She was not the woman who was seated next to me on the train, yet this elegant woman seemed to know me and welcomed my arrival.
She took my arm and escorted me into the reception hall. Ten or twelve other couples were standing and conversing quietly. “Je pouvoir Charles Garris présent.” She turned and whispered to me, “we are safe here, these people are Christians. Oh, Monsieur, did I tell you I know your daughter?”
She had to be my Countess contact. “How do you know Monique?”
“Because of what we are doing, because of the list you gave her, because of the 24 who are here tonight, you would be better to ask how do we know you.”
“Countess, I am confused.”
“Monsieur, we are here to enlist on the side of Christ. Monique told us of your arrival.”
“Countess, then you know the danger, there are but few of us left, and we are hunted.”
“No Monsieur, we are growing.”
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