To purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org, direct from Parisian Phoenix.
Want to read the beginnings of the Fashion and Fiends novels? Here you go…
Manipulations, Book One
Lughaidh gripped the crumpled People magazine page against the steering wheel as he stared across the parking lot. It had been too easy to track her. A supermodel should know better. He relaxed his fingers and the page drifted to reveal photographs of fashion designer Étienne d’Amille’s renovated farmhouse, one particular photo and caption circled with a thick black marker. In it, Adelaide Pitney arranged pottery in a mustard-gold painted kitchen with, if Lughaidh could trust the photograph, Tiger’s Eye countertops. The caption read:
“D’Amille’s long-time muse helped him find many of the distinctive elements of the home, situated in Upper Mount Bethel Township on River Road.”
That provided enough information. Lughaidh found Adelaide and waited for her to leave without the French boss. After a trip to a grocery store twelve miles away, she’d led him to this dumpy bar. Someone even partially famous should have been harder to track, but Adelaide Pitney didn’t act like a celebrity. You’d think she’d be more careful. You’d think she’d travel with someone. You never know when someone might pop out of the bushes with a razor and cut that beautiful face.
Lughaidh reached for his cigarettes. The styrofoam cup where he stored his cigarette butts had gone from empty to full during this recent hunt. Snapping his thumb against his index finger, Lughaidh conjured a flame from his fingertip and lit his smoke. Fire could mar Adelaide’s flawless skin. The flame on his finger died. Lughaidh inhaled and watched her, as he had for the last several days.
Adelaide sat in her powder blue convertible, the top down, her rock music assailing his ears screaming ‘dazzled and doused in gin’ about changing tastes in men. Her heart-shaped face pinned her cell phone to her ear, not that you could see the phone beneath that thick strawberry blond hair. Without raising the roof of the car, Adelaide emerged.
Her excessive height and endless legs still surprised him. In those heels, she was easily six-foot-plus. She lingered at her car door, the cell phone still attached to her shoulder. Her hair, perfectly cropped to the chin, swayed with her movements. A couple, foul with perspiration, staggered from a mud-spattered pickup and disappeared into the bar. Adelaide smashed her phone closed, muttering, and jammed it into a cylindrical purse with a triangular d’Amille logo.
Lughaidh opened the Viper’s glove box. Papers fluttered across the passenger seat, not one of them a valid registration or insurance card. The disarray covered the ornate silver chalice he had no right to have. Lughaidh let the papers go. Instead, he reached into the pedestal of the chalice and plucked from within a small marble with blue swirls. He slipped it into his pocket. Its coolness penetrated the fabric of his pocket and left the sensation of wetness on his thigh. He set his hand against his leg to warm it.
He dug into the mess on his passenger seat. Lughaidh cast aside a European Union passport and business cards from phony companies before he opened a leather billfold with a dozen driver’s licenses. Each had “his” photograph, doctored in Photoshop. He needed a less exotic moniker than the Lughaidh, selecting the name Galen Sorbach on a Pennsylvania class C drivers license. It exaggerated his height at five-foot-two, but it also claimed that he turned twenty-three this October. Twenty-three was a very long time ago.
Meanwhile, Adelaide had not moved. She eyed the bar’s doors suspiciously. An unlabeled door fronted the parking lot, while the proper door, which no one used, loomed at the top of the hill. Lughaidh stepped out of the car. He wondered what kind of personality Galen should have, but he didn’t have time to ponder. He had to get the girl. Neferkaba, the Spirit Guardian, had requested it. The girl had to be emptied to protect the balance of the universe.
Retrieving his wallet from the rear pocket of his jeans, Lughaidh added the license. A baby face like his, never touched by five-o’clock shadow, always got carded. Evoking Ambisagrus, Gaulish god of weather, Lughaidh crossed the parking lot as a breeze. A drunken jumble of women with bleached blonde hair, cheap denim, and tight tank tops stumbled toward a Firebird placing themselves directly in the path between Lughaidh and his quarry. The women made their way, arms tangled and bodies barely upright, as they exuded a dreary fog of intoxication that blurred the defining lines between them.
Lughaidh aborted his call to Ambisagrus, plopping himself before the drunks with their quasi-exposed tits. Adelaide jerked, dropping her keys. The women offered a collective gasp and their limbs twisted together as the one in the middle hit the ground.
“You dropped from the fucking sky,” the one on the far left said.
At this point, she was the only one firmly standing in this alcohol-drowned chorus line. Adelaide approached them.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
The woman on the ground struggled to get to her feet. Her hands and knees bore scrape marks, fresh with traces of blood and puddles of yellow pus. Adelaide grabbed a crumpled napkin from her purse and placed it against the woman’s palm.
“You’re hurt,” Adelaide said.
Adelaide wiped at the woman’s hand, and as she did, the napkin turned the color of electrified dusk. The bleeding stopped. The wound had healed, not completely, but enough so the injury was forgotten. Adelaide had used her power, the same power used a few months ago on a larger healing, the one that attracted Neferkaba’s ire, the one recorded in the marble.
“You’ll be okay,” Adelaide said.
Lughaidh retrieved Adelaide’s keys. The strange floral-nature scent of magick hung in the air. The women stared.
“Are you sure you can drive?” Adelaide asked. “Maybe I could call someone…”
Don’t get involved, Lughaidh thought. The last thing he needed was Adelaide protected by a bunch of drunk women. He needed to isolate her so he could fill the cup with Adelaide’s water magick, that’s how she healed others, and return the cup to Neferkaba. That meant the drunken women had to go home. Lughaidh imagined a kiss of fire, and it danced across the air. An orange imprint of lips fell against each of the women’s temples and dissolved.
“You should go,” Lughaidh said quietly.
In complete synchronicity, the women directed their gazes toward Lughaidh. With similar unification, they went to the Firebird and piled into it. The car peeled out. Lughaidh walked to Adelaide and curled her fingers, and their translucent white-tipped fingernails, around her keys. Her gigantic blue eyes welcomed him.
“I hope they get home okay,” she said. “They seemed really drunk.”
“They might get arrested,” Lughaidh said. As soon as he said it, he paused. It was a stupid thing to say.
Adelaide smiled. In her gold sandals with five-inch, red-soled heels, she didn’t fit in this rural hamlet. Neither did he. His body relaxed, despite his anxiousness over the job he had to do, the deception he had to pull, on her and on Kait. Adelaide’s magick pulled him like a tide. Her water lulled his fire. Her lips, so pale and pink, drew him and begged him to kiss them, promising a sweetness like cotton candy.
The marble, with its enigmatic blue swirls, had showed him everything he needed to know. Neferkaba had ruled Adelaide dangerous. Kait should have dealt with her by now, but she hadn’t, so Lughaidh would. Perhaps Neferkaba would anoint him fire guardian. That would make him Kait’s equal.
Lughaidh stepped closer to Adelaide, her toned body casting a shadow over him. He peered into cleavage through the strategic keyhole in her halter. Her bulbous breasts stirred him and that pissed him off. He had work to do! Somehow her water-heavy sexuality had distracted him. Galen could not become a victim of her charms.
Adelaide rested her long fingers against her hips. Her manicured nails gleamed in the moonlight. A charm bracelet crossed her slender wrist. An Eiffel Tower, a ballet dancer, and a Star of David toppled across her hand. The metal striking metal chimed like a fairy call.
“You know which door is in?” she asked, “because I really need a beer.”
She placed extra emphasis on the “really.” Her smile offered simplicity like ice cream. Her gleaming eyes served as windows to her soul in fourteenth-century, cobalt stained glass. His mouth went dry. His words flipped across his tongue. A wailing electronic version of the James Bond theme interrupted them. Adelaide sighed. She opened her purse and snatched her phone.
“Oui, patron?” she answered.
Lughaidh’s tongue loosened and his limbs warmed. She mumbled through a one-sided conversation with her boss, as the French ‘patron’ implied, while Lughaidh memorized the New York plates and the name of the Manhattan dealer on her Mercedes.
“I’m in Portland, Et… Portland,” she said, “so no, I can’t stop for Oreos.”
She murmured more French and closed her phone.
“Guess I’ll try that one,” she said, pointing to the door facing the parking lot.
The phone returned to the purse. Adelaide pivoted. Those killer heels paraded away, offering a view of swaying hips, backside and bare spine. Prepared to launch his Galen persona, Lughaidh called upon Baile, god of blarney, with a whispered incantation. He jogged after her.
“Hey,” Lughaidh called. “Wait!”
Her chin grazed her shoulder as she glanced back.
“I’d like to stay here,” he said as he reached her.
His authority filled the gap between them, then boomeranged.
“So stay,” she replied, turning the grimy doorknob.
“With you,” he said.
She raised her eyebrows at him and mounted the stairs.
“Don’t you want to stay?” he replied.
She didn’t stop. Lughaidh followed. He definitely could not manipulate her will if he couldn’t make eye contact. He caught himself clenching his fists so tightly that his knuckles popped in protest. The wood floor reverberated with Led Zeppelin. Billiard balls cracked. Smoke surrounded them. The man at the video poker machine froze. The man shooting at the pool table thrust against the cue ball with too much force. The ball jumped against the green felt and ultimately scratched. The women bristled.
Adelaide maintained her course and claimed an empty spot at the bar. She ordered a light draft. Some dollars exchanged hands and the bartender handed her the beer. A lip-pierced woman in dark clothes sunk her hands into a school bus kiddie backpack, slapping a magazine against the bar. She beckoned the bartender.
Adelaide sipped her beer gingerly, the foam barely touching her lips, leaving no lipstick on the rim. She stood there, one heel rocking against the rung of the barstool. Lughaidh leaned closer. Their eyes met. Sliding one arm onto the bar, Lughaidh extended his fingers toward her forehead and pressed into her flesh.
“Sit down,” he snarled.
She rested the beer on its coaster. She placed her hand on his forehead and mimicked him.
“No, Mr. Leprechaun.”
“Do I sound Irish?” he asked.
“Yeah,” she said. “You do. A little.”
“I’m not Irish.”
“Neither am I,” she said.
Lughaidh craned his neck toward the window and when he couldn’t find the moon scanned the room for a clock. He was running out of time. Lughnasadh would arrive in a few hours, as would Kait. If Kait noticed that he had stolen her cup… His fingers slipped into his pocket where he rolled the marble between his index fingers and thumb. He had to return the chalice and the marble before she discovered what he had done.
The bartender slapped a Vogue onto the damp bar. It featured a full-page d’Amille ad with Adelaide in a cropped, plaid box jacket, teal and brown with suede collar; a v-neck sweater in a similar blue; brown mini-skirt and thigh-high leather boots.
“That’s you,” the bartender said.
“Adelaide Pitney!” the pierced woman burst out.
“She wants you to autograph it,” the bartender explained.
Adelaide grabbed a metallic pen from her purse and drew a giant N, then looped against it transforming one side into a P and the initial triangle into an A. She returned the magazine to the bartender. Her hands tightened on her glass, stroking the condensation.
“I can’t even go to a hick bar without being recognized,” she muttered.
“What do you expect? You’re a supermodel,” Lughaidh said.
“Very observant, little man,” she quipped. “Is that why you’re hanging around?”
“And you’re rude,” he responded.
Her shoulders and her chest rose and fell, but no breath escaped her lips. She silently stared at him. Levity flecked her irises as her lips crept into a sly smile.
“Sorry,” she said. “You haven’t hit on me. You haven’t tried to grab my ass. And you didn’t slither away after my leprechaun joke. You could be a nice guy.”
“Maybe,” he answered. “Maybe not.”
“All the better,” Adelaide replied. “I always fall for the wrong guys.”
Courting Apparitions, Book Two
Étienne d’Amille clung to the steering wheel of his wife’s Mercedes, his fingers’ grip stretching the leather of his favorite driving gloves. The keys laid in his lap as he surveyed the parking lot from his rearview mirror. The typical array of dusty pickup trucks, Chevrolets and Fords surrounded him except for one gleaming black sports car with white racing stripes.
A Dodge Viper. His eyes remained nailed to the spot. Or, how did the Americans put it? Glued. Glued to the spot. The heavy emptiness inside him since September now ached, even worse than inside the house.
He couldn’t sleep inside the house. He hadn’t gone into the bathroom where Adelaide committed suicide, where he had his heart attack, but yet his wife slept in the next room. He couldn’t. But then, these days he barely slept anywhere… Not in Paris, not in Manhattan and certainly not here in rural Pennsylvania.
He thought he would sneak to the bar, have a beer, and go home. This tiny town had a population of 400 people and in that respect, it reminded him of the French countryside. Not much to do and not much there. This particular hamlet had one option at this advanced hour of the night: a bar péquenot…peasant? Redneck? He hadn’t expected to find anyone he knew, or anyone who knew him, let alone the Viper.
Galen’s Viper. The aspiring photographer had dated Adelaide. She was completely infatuated with him. Étienne hadn’t heard of him or seen him since her death. Of course, Étienne hadn’t been in the United States… His gaze shifted from the reflection of the parking lot onto his own eyes, their color partially hidden by his blond bangs. He brushed the curls from his face, touching the wrinkles in his forehead that had grown deeper in recent months. He took the keys from his lap and climbed from the car, his left leg protesting as he stood. He retrieved his cane. The golden S600 chirped as he locked it with the fob and slipped the keys into his pocket. He slowly approached the bar, the gravel crunchy and uneven under his feet.
The door led to a smoky stairwell that climbed toward the cracking billiard balls and blaring country music. Étienne emerged from the entry to find two men in black motorcycle jackets playing pool, a twenty-something in a ratty flannel pounding a video poker machine and a half-full bar. Slurred vocabulary, a product of collective drunkenness, transformed the normally harsh English into a cacophony of trumpeting elephants. He scanned the figures on the barstools.
Étienne slid between two women close to his age, somewhere in the forties, one with teased bangs and one plain brunette, both with plunging sweaters and less than firm cleavage.
“Pardon,” he said to the first, regretting the sing-song syllables. Then, with flatter intonations more akin to American English, he translated the phrase: “Pardon me.”
The same tall, lanky bleached blond female bartender with bad teeth that had served him during the summer visit noticed him now.
“What can I get you?” she asked.
Chicken flesh rose across his arms. He hadn’t found Galen but something told him that Galen had spotted him. A draft crossed his neck, which between the cashmere coat and scarf should have been impossible.
“A beer, please,” he said softly.
The bartender did nothing. Étienne glanced to the taps and to the cooler. What kind of beer? Her eyebrows raised and she waited. He stood there, dumbstruck, unable to remember the names of American beer. They all tasted like donkey’s piss, so what did it matter?
“Bof,” he muttered. He wanted a ‘Yuengling’ but the word got tangled in his tongue. ‘Rolling Rock’ would fare no better. So he ordered a Miller, which, based on the combination of eye twitches from the bartender, sounded like ‘Mee-yer’ or worse, ‘Mee-yeah.’
“MEEL-ler,” he repeated, in the same way he would correct someone’s pronunciation of his family name, “da MEEL.”
“Bottle or draft?” the bartender quizzed.
“Bottle,” he replied. “Give me brandy, French, if you have, and the drinks for the ladies.”
“French brandy,” the bartender muttered under her breath as she walked to the cooler.
The distance between him and his neighbors suddenly closed, at which point he cleared his throat and hoped they would return to their original slouch over the bar. They didn’t. He removed his billfold from his interior pocket and pulled free a twenty. The bartender returned with a bottle, a glass and a shot. Étienne delicately tugged his gloves from his fingers and placed them in his pocket. He set the brandy, shot glass and all, in the glass and poured the beer over it. He rested his cane on his wrist, beer bottle in one hand and glass in the other, as he moved awkwardly to a booth. Étienne stripped off his winter wear, arranging it nicely on the seat before settling against the vinyl cushion.
His hands circled the drink, but he didn’t bring it to his lips. He looked into it, his bangs falling over his forehead. Étienne hadn’t imbibed alcohol in six months. The doctors discouraged it with his blood pressure medication. After the last few days… He lifted the glass.
“Well, well, well,” Galen’s voice boomed. “Look what the cat dragged in.”
Étienne lowered the untouched beer as Galen slid into the opposite side of the booth. Boyishly handsome with bronze skin and hazel eyes, a broad build, and auburn hair… Galen possessed a figure that Étienne would love to feature in front of the camera instead of behind it. It would never happen. Though un bel homme or ‘a beautiful man,’ Galen was too short for high fashion.
“You look like shit, Étienne. What’s with the cane?”
“Galen,” Étienne said, rising with an outstretched hand. His leg chastised him.
Étienne, though he hadn’t attended Mass since Christmas, whispered an internal prayer asking the Mother to guide him with any questions Galen might have regarding Adelaide’s death. Galen ignored Étienne’s gesture and slammed a glass of golden liquor against the table.
“How are you?” Étienne said. He sat.
“Better than you, apparently, old man.”
Étienne’s chicken flesh prickled and he shivered.
“Did you have need of something?” Étienne asked.
“Nope,” he said, gulping his drink.
Something orange flickered from the cuff on Galen’s wrist.
“What would I need?” Galen said.
At first Étienne thought maybe Galen had a stray thread on his sleeve, but it moved. The color splashed across his arm like a flame.
“Galen? There is something on your arm. Were you smoking because…”
The photographer leaned across the table, heat scorched Étienne. Étienne pulled his torso back, throwing his spine against the booth.
“You know what I would like?” Galen said. “An explanation. I was seeing this really nice girl, and she started avoiding me. Then People magazine calls me… Me … and asks me if I have more pictures of Adelaide Pitney because she committed suicide. Nobody told me. I heard from some jackass at People.”
Étienne could almost taste the beer in front of him. He wrapped his fingers around it. The bubbles tickled his nose as he rehearsed the English for how he wanted to apologize. He exhaled slowly as rose his gaze toward the young man. Fire surrounded Galen’s head. It exploded from his neck, danced across his cheeks and surged over his eyes. Étienne jumped.
“You’re on fire!” Étienne exclaimed in French.
The beer tumbled. A strange bellow escaped Étienne’s lips as he slammed into the wooden booth. His beer glass landed on the floor and rolled toward the bar. The clatter distracted Étienne until the familiar pain shot through his chest. He gasped and threw his hand against his ribs.
“I’m on fire?” Galen repeated calmly in English. “As in ‘I’m on a hot streak’?”
The flames licked Galen’s flesh, receding from his skull and eventually dying under the collar of his shirt. The pain in Étienne’s chest receded. The bartender tossed a kitchen towel at them. Étienne mopped the beer and shot confused glances at Galen.
“Non,” Étienne said. “Must be the light. It is nothing.”
Étienne moved toward Galen, dabbing the towel, seeking the cause of mysterious burning.
“Must be nice,” Galen continued. “Your collections sold like crazy. You’re engaged, a baby on the way.”
“Engaged to my ex-wife,” Étienne clarified. “And men my age don’t want the babies—”
“At least it’s your ex-wife. What if it was somebody else? With your history…”
Étienne froze. The flames flickered with renewed intensity.
“What do you say?” Étienne replied. He switched to French knowing Galen understood the language. “Do you think I have mistresses? That I cheat?”
Galen’s lips straightened and curled as a strange pink swirled inside his irises, like the fire in an opal. In the distance, something dripped with a deafening ferocity. Étienne searched for the source of the noise with his peripheral vision, afraid to look away from Galen.
“Oh, Étienne, the whole world knows about you and Adelaide. Rumors say it’s why she killed herself,” Galen chuckled. “The tabloids got the gist of your up-and-coming days and what you did when Adelaide was an innocent teenager.”
The flames sizzled. The dripping quickened. Fire and rain. Galen’s face glowed red in a mask of fire.
“Non,” Étienne said. “I did not. I would not. You believe les ragots.”
“The gossip?” Galen replied. “I believe that’s the word you’re missing.”
Crushing consumed Étienne’s chest as the pain erupted with renewed tenacity. His shaking fingers fumbled for the nitroglycerin on the keychain. He got the pill into his mouth, closing his eyes as it disintegrated.
“She told me,” Galen said. “She told me exactly how you touched her.”
“Non,” Étienne insisted.
Étienne’s chest loosened. He opened his eyes to a film of water covering Galen’s skin and no more fire.
“I have no memory of doing anything with her,” Étienne said.
“She said you had the softest hands of anyone she had ever met,” Galen said.
He grabbed Étienne’s fingers. Étienne’s flesh gleamed positively white next to the rich hue of Galen’s even in the dusky light. Étienne jerked free.
“They’re not,” Galen responded.
“I have not done the sewing. The silks … require…”
Droplets from Galen’s skin trickled across Étienne’s palm. He wiped them on the damp towel.
“Excuse me,” he told Galen.
Étienne returned the towel to the bartender and hobbled to the restroom without his cane. Étienne pushed inside the swinging saloon doors. The room washed in and out of shadow from the single dangling bulb. He loosened the tap with a paper towel and washed his hands. The hair on his neck curled tighter. He checked the mirror. He found nothing but himself, thinner and more haggard than he liked, but himself nonetheless.
The walls of the bathroom shrank. The flow from the spigot surged. The water ricocheted from the basin onto his shirt and slacks. Brutal cold filled the room followed by vanilla scent. While he fought with the taps, something darted across the room and touched his back. The lingering aroma heightened, melding with notes of rose, anise, ginger. His knees buckled. Gaultier Classique, Adelaide’s perfume. He gazed again to the mirror, where he discovered the hazy silhouette of a tall woman.
Étienne squeezed his eyes closed. Opening them again, he confirmed his vision amid a sea of black spots. Adelaide stood behind him, her unmistakable curves, her strawberry blond locks framing her heart-shaped face and her blue eyes gleaming like lapis lazuli. The water now overflowed the basin. Étienne cursed his lack of sleep and indulged his heavy heart. A tear welled in his eye. He turned, ready to face the reality behind him and discard the reflection. He stepped onto thick boots and walked directly into Galen.
Recovery, Book Three
Late February 2003
Hoisting her pregnant older sister, a stroke victim with limited use of her right side, into the cabin of a Falcon jet had proven the most grueling challenge of Jacqueline Saint-Ebène’s career as a military doctor. By the time she cajoled Basilie’s uncooperative body up the stairs, Jacqueline thought her own arms might fall off. Somehow, Jacqueline managed to guide Basilie into the leather chair across from the door and buckle her seatbelt for her. Basilie offered a weak smile, the effort as exhausting for her as it had been for Jacqueline, and muttered ‘maan.’ Jacqueline tucked her shoulder-length hair behind her ears as she met her sister’s gaze.
“You’re welcome,” she said in their native French.
Since the stroke two weeks ago, speech therapy had returned a few words to Basilie. ‘Maan’ was the attempt at the French word for ‘thank you,’ ‘merci.’ Basilie laid her hand against a German economics book on the table, something about the new Euro currency and its impact on the financial markets from what Jacqueline could translate. German never interested Jacqueline nor did economics. Basilie opened the paperback and read.
The men boarded the plane. Jacqueline had requested time to settle Basilie so she wouldn’t be embarrassed by her lack of mobility. Basilie’s ex-husband, fashion designer Étienne d’Amille, brushed by them, taking the seat opposite Basilie. Étienne kissed Basilie’s forehead as he passed. Étienne’s former army buddy and current business second-in-command, Didier Robineau, claimed the chair on the other side of the aisle, fastening the lap belt which disappeared beneath his tweed blazer.
Jules Zweigenbaum, Étienne’s private chef, a tall, long-haired fellow who’d spent his youth surfing in Berritz and had the body to show for it, entered the plane next to last, leaving only Doctor-in-Chief Philomé Abdullahi on the tarmac. Jules went to the rear of the plane sitting to the left of the lavatory on the aisle seat. He stretched across the seat beside him and closed the window shade.
Jacqueline peered at the empty seat across from Didier, nearest the cockpit, the cabin door and her patient. She should stay there, but she headed to the rear, opting for the window seat at the table facing Jules. Philomé came aboard. He was the only person of color among them, his rich African skin a striking contrast to the beige and veneer interior of Étienne’s business jet. Philomé predictably took the chair beside her.
He situated his seatbelt and then, when his hand fell against the armrest they shared, Jacqueline covered it with her hand. The wool sleeves of their dress uniforms scratched abrasively against each other. Philomé removed his hat and set it on the table. She hadn’t worn hers. The ridiculous, puffy white cap with its wide navy visor and embroidered gold trim looked like something you’d see on a sailor, not a doctor.
A civilian pilot emerged from the cabin, his face flushed and perspiring. People milled around outside the plane. Jacqueline couldn’t see anything out the window, but she heard murmuring and footfalls.
“We’re going to have to delay take-off,” the pilot said in French.
“Captain Luc? Is there a problem?” he asked.
Jules’ fingers trembled against the table, his face a frightening pallor. Two men in white caps and midnight blue windbreakers emerged, holding FAMAS rifles against the reflective white stripe dividing their torsos horizontally. The second man secured the entrance. Jacqueline leapt to her feet. Philomé clamped his hand on her wrist. Suddenly, the soft features of his face faded into a severe expression—feminine lips pressed together tensely below the short beard he maintained so carefully, small eyes strained, and his head cocked ever so slightly—a look of complete no-nonsense authority. She shivered, and it wasn’t a nervous reaction. His sudden shift in body language heated her insides in a way that made her forget herself until a military captain sauntered from the cockpit in dress uniform complete with white gloves. Judging from the colors and weight of the bars on his breast, he had more decorations than Jacqueline and Philomé combined. That sobered and shifted her thoughts.
“We’re commandeering this aircraft,” the captain said.
“I guess I’ll take a seat,” Luc said.
The captain placed his hand on Luc’s shoulder.
“We’ll be needing your services in the cockpit.”
“You didn’t bring a pilot?” Jacqueline remarked. “Isn’t that the point of the air gendarmes?”
“A waste of manpower,” the captain said. “You have a perfectly qualified pilot.”
“Who the fuck authorized this and why?” Jacqueline barked.
Philomé tugged at her arm.
“I requested this,” Philomé said.
Jacqueline jerked free of his grasp.
“Why?” she replied.
“We need to make sure your brother-in-law isn’t a danger to himself, those around him or to society at large.”
“You have got to be kidding!” she said. “My brother-in-law is a fashion designer, not a third world terrorist.”
“Your brother-in-law used supernatural power to heal his ex-wife who should be catatonic right now,” he said.
“Excuse me,” Étienne said softly, his finger raised as if beckoning a waiter. “The brother-in-law is right here and I have a name.”
“You know damn well he’s not a threat,” Jacqueline said.
Jacqueline forced her way between Philomé ’s knees and the table and dropped herself in the chair by Didier, her legs hanging into the aisle over the armrest.
“Doc Saint, Doctor-in-Chief Abdullahi,” the captain said. “Transport to Paris commencing.”
Luc returned to the cockpit.
“Thank you,” Philomé said quietly.
“If everyone would prepare for departure,” the military captain said.
The captain and his two meatheads glared at Jacqueline. She swung her legs forward, sat straight in her chair, and tightened her belt. She gestured to her lap and smiled. The captain retreated to the cockpit. Jacqueline pivoted her gaze to Philomé and noticed that Jules hadn’t budged. His gaze remained fixed. Étienne returned to his seat and buckled his seatbelt. One of the gendarme enforcers took the spare crew seat, never deviating in monitoring his captives. Basilie lowered her book to the little table. The plane hummed to life. The second meathead progressed to the chair beside Jules.
“Jacqueline…” Philomé said.
“Not now,” Jacqueline said.
The plane moved in reverse and swung left. Didier shifted in his seat and propped his head against the window. Étienne sunk his hand into this wave of dirty blond curls that had fallen over his eye and swept them away. If her years of doctoring on the battlefield had taught her anything, it told her that Étienne’s wavering slate blue eyes begged her for an answer.
“I only want a safe flight home,” Philomé continued.
His well-practiced, cool and collected voice faded. He used a tone Jacqueline remembered from the fall-out after she shaved her genitals with his razor. After a few months in a tent in the desert, it didn’t seem like a big deal to her. After the first round of sex, she wanted to spice things up for the second. She didn’t anticipate his disapproval, especially since she’d conceived the idea based on his tendency toward “manscaping” “down there.”
Basilie tilted her left hand in Philomé’s direction and lifted her middle finger. Jacqueline chuckled. An American signal, but apropos nonetheless. The jet rolled forward and stopped again. Didier’s eyes flickered.
“We agreed. Étienne and Didier show no ill effects and pose no threat,” Jacqueline said.
“We agreed the evidence was inconclusive. I’d like more tests,” Philomé said.
“So you had to commandeer the plane? You could have asked. Hey, Étienne, Didier, would you mind swinging by the lab for some tests?”
“Not at all,” said Étienne.
Jacqueline turned to Didier. The flickering had intensified. His pupils had dilated.
“Didier?” Jacqueline asked.
She whipped a pen light from her breast pocket. She flashed it in his eyes. No response. His fingers seemed locked, with his pinkies twitching.
“He’s seizing,” she said.
She unclipped her seatbelt, but as she did Didier blinked and extended his hand. The jet engines roared to life.
“Sorry,” he said. “I’m okay.”
Jacqueline flashed the light into his eyes. He recoiled, but Jacqueline could see his pupils had contracted. They responded to the light. The plane glided to the runway.
“Do you have epilepsy?” she asked.
“No,” he said with a chuckle, “but if I were you, I’d knock the tension down on this flight. Jules isn’t doing too well.”
Jacqueline glanced over her shoulder to the chef as she returned to her seat. He hadn’t regained color since the shock of the gendarmerie’s arrival. So, maybe the change in color didn’t stem from recent events. G-force pressed her against the cushion and suddenly the plane jumped into the air, that magical few seconds where the world seemed to float on a bubble. The airport shrunk. The nose of the plane pointed up and they climbed. Jules’ heel rhythmically tapped against the floor. Jacqueline maintained her surveillance, worried that his head hadn’t even twitched during take-off. His body seemed beyond rigid.
“Jules,” she said. “Are you alright?”
She pulled her pocket-sized brown suede notebook from her medical bag. She unwound the bronze ribbon that circled it and opened to the next clean page. Jacqueline jotted down the words “denial of seizure” on the left side of the two page spread. Beneath that header she compiled a quick list: dilated pupils, stiff fingers, pinky twitch. She added “petit mal” and drew a few question marks beside it.
“I don’t like to fly,” Jules said. “It usually doesn’t bother me that much. I can ignore it… but today, I don’t know…”
Didier craned his neck so he could look over the headrest. No easy feat in these large leather seats.
“Can you tell me what’s bothering you?” Philomé asked.
“I’m afraid of flying,” Jules snarled.
Didier turned forward and closed his eyes, pressing his head against the chair. Jacqueline moved her pen to the blank page on the right side of her book and wrote “aviophobia.”
“What are you thinking now? Why are you afraid?” Philomé continued.
“I don’t like not having the ground beneath me,” Jules said. “It’s a long way down and if something happens…”
Didier had tensed. Basilie glared at Jacqueline as if this were her fault.
“Didier, are you sure you don’t need medical attention?” Jacqueline asked.
“I’m fine,” Didier stage-whispered.
“Do you know you had a seizure?” Jacqueline said.
Basilie slapped the pages of her book together.
“It wasn’t a seizure,” Didier insisted.
Étienne fiddled with controls near his armrest. Three screens in various areas on the cabin— one near Didier, one on the wall beside the lavatory and the final one next to the meathead— came to life.
“Does Philomé really think he’s going to reason with Jules?” Didier asked.
“He’s a shrink,” Jacqueline replied. “He thinks he can reason with anyone.
Basilie re-opened her book. A copyright piracy warning appeared on the screens. The army had commandeered his plane and Étienne was going to watch a movie. The MGM lion roared. Jules reddened, so much so that his neck also turned a deep pink. That indicated a troubling increase in blood pressure, which could be especially dangerous with the change in air pressure and altitude. After slipping her journal into her pants pocket, Jacqueline unbuckled her seatbelt. She stood and stumbled, catching herself on Didier’s chair.
“Where are you going?” the meathead asked.
“He’s in distress,” Jacqueline said. “Dr. Abdullahi’s talk therapy isn’t helping.”
The plane had not yet reached climbing altitude. Didier touched her arm.
“Thank you,” Didier said. “Hurry.”
Grabbing Philomé’s seat, she worked her way to the rear. The plane adjusted its steep pitch enough that she could almost balance. Jacqueline circled her left arm around Jules’ headrest and took his wrist with the other. She laid her fingers against his pulse point and counted while following the second hand on her watch. Jules’ surveyed her, but his eyes kept darting as if unable to maintain focus.
“Heart rate uncomfortably high, and I would guess his blood pressure is, too.”
She pulled up his eyelid with her thumb. He winced.
“His pupils are dilated,” she said.
That was going around. On the movie, a bullet fired and a familiar musical theme began. She gazed to Étienne.
“James Bond? Really?” Jacqueline remarked.
She studied the rise and fall of Jules’ chest.
James Bond stripped of his scuba gear. Jules placed his palm against Jacqueline’s shoulder, forcing her to step away.
“Has the plane reached cruising altitude?” Étienne asked.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Jacqueline said.
“I need to use the bathroom,” Jules said.
“To urinate? Or throw up?” Jacqueline asked.
“Both,” he replied.
Jules rose from his seat. His gaze met hers, pointed and hot. Jacqueline retreated another step. He blinked, his eyes remaining closed a few seconds, before he went into the lavatory.
“Would anyone else like a drink?” Étienne asked as he stood.
Jacqueline moved to the counter and leaned against it. Étienne walked to her and paused.
“Étienne, do you still take atenolol?” Jacqueline asked.
“I stopped,” he said.
“Do you have any left?” she asked.
He waved her to the side. She moved closer to the wall and held her ear to the lavatory door. She could barely hear Jules’ urination thanks to James Bonds’ blustery brawl and bathtub electrocution.
“If not, I could try cyclobenzaprine,” she said to no one in particular.
Étienne opened a drawer under the counter. He tossed her a prescription pill bottle. Water ran in the bathroom sink. Next came the heaving noises.
“Jacqueline, you can’t medicate him,” Philomé said.
“Like hell I can’t,” she replied. “I’m a doctor.”
She read the dosage on the bottle. Jules was taller than Étienne and probably had more muscle. Better double it to be safe. Étienne had closed the drawer and opened a cabinet beside it.
“Is it too early in the day for brandy?” he asked.
Étienne selected a bottle of Chambord. Next, he got a series of glasses. Jules opened the bathroom door and took his seat. Jacqueline popped the lid off the pills, handing Jules two. Jules accepted reluctantly, picking up the pills via careful pinch as if avoiding touching her skin. Étienne handed him a bottle of Evian.
“Beta blocker,” she said. “Works on anxiety.”
Jules swallowed them. He chugged the water. Étienne got ice out of the refrigerator. Étienne poured a double shot of Chambord on the rocks and circled the glass with a cocktail napkin. He took it to Basilie, who smiled as she carefully wrapped the fingers of her left hand around it. Shirley Bassey sung about the movie’s villain while the credits rolled.
“Now, for the men,” Étienne said. “Are purple margaritas too girly?”
“I don’t think so,” Didier replied.
Étienne reached into the liquor cabinet. He pulled out a bottle of vodka.
“I’m guessing martinis, shaken not stirred,” Didier said.
Étienne put away the vodka. Next, he chose bourbon.
“Or a mint julep,” Didier said.
Étienne shoved the bourbon into the cupboard. When his hand came out the next time, he had a bottle of Chartreuse. He arranged five glasses and dispersed ice into each one. He poured at least a couple hundred milliliters of glowing green liquor into each one. Jacqueline noted Jules’ heart rate, flesh tone, and the dosage of the Atenolol she used. She scribbled a quick line about the pharmaceuticals performing when rationalizing wouldn’t suffice, why make the patient suffer when medicine can ease the pain? Etienne circulated through the cabin with a silver drink platter, Didier first, avoiding the meathead and Basilie, then giving one to Philomé, and finally Jules.
“Étienne!” she chastised him again. “He’s had blood pressure medication.”
Not the Quiet French Kid
An origin story novelette from the Fashion and Fiends series
Jules shoved his brother, Benji, perhaps harder than he intended, perhaps not. Benji matched him in height and weight so Jules couldn’t reach over him or even around him to swap his books in the locker the school forced them to share. Benji’s head of thick black hair blocked every attempt Jules made to put his British lit boo
k away and grab his gym bag.
“What the hell are you doing, Benji?” Jules barked in French.
“It’s Louis, Jules. Benji is a kid’s name, or a dog’s name,” Benji responded in English.
“Whatever,” Jules said, also in English, with the same tone he’d heard the American kids use. “It’s not going to stick. Come on! Let me in! Your chemistry class is right here and I need to traverse the entire building!”
“Traverse?” Benji repeated. “No wonder you’re having a hard time fitting in.”
“I’m going to be late for Home Ec, again! And that espèce de salope has no more sympathy for my new kid routine.”
Benji snickered and moved to the side. Jules slapped him in the back of the skull.
“It’s not funny,” Jules snapped as he seized his backpack from the hook.
“Be grateful that French class fit into your schedule, or you could be sewing and cooking with the girls,” Jules said.
Jules jogged down the hall, quasi-backwards, determined to reach his next class on time.
“Face it, Jules. You like the cooking,” Benji remarked. “Hey, look out!”
And then Jules hit something.
“Hey, watch it!” the something said.
Jules turned. The object he hit pivoted.
“Well, Jewel. Excuse me, Mr. Wee-Wee Poo-Poo.”
Jules exhaled. “Sorry, Bobby. I’ve got to get to Home Ec.”
Bobby Lincoln, a football player with a crew cut and no neck, laughed. He poked Jules in the chest.
“Gonna make me something to eat, Mr. Wee-Wee?”
“Bobby, I really don’t have time for this…”
Jules maneuvered around him, but Bobby stepped squarely into Jules’ path.
“First you have to suck my dick.”
“Find someone else to play fireman,” Jules said as he barreled past Bobby, their shoulders slamming together. The bell rang. “Putain.”
Jules broke into a run.
“This isn’t over, French boy,” Bobby yelled.
“It never is,” Jules muttered as he raced toward the front of the building.