MARIE LOOKED UP from the front desk in the main house, as she had just updated the reservation book. “Oh, look who’s here-my long lost sister!” Marie hurried to greet her, and gave her a full embrace with a kiss on the cheek. “Sweetie, how are you?” inquired Marie checking her out head to toe, adding, “You look stunning! Healthy!”
“Sister, you can cool your jets. I’m fine, Momma Marie. Now, where are all those kids?” said Michelle Lillie Volnay. Michelle had come from Paris to the Loire Valley to send Marie and Nicolas off to be married and honeymoon on the coast. Michelle, the babysitter, would look after the children with assistance from a nanny. Michelle was the belle-the femme fatale-with long golden hair shining amidst softly flowing waves which bespoke goddess beauty; but when she turned around her smile melted hearts. Her skin was a soft bronze with exquisitely formed facial features displaying dark brown eyes set above lips that were not afraid to speak her mind wherever, whenever, but mostly in search of that desired kiss. Slim in body but powerful in her stature and walk, one could just watch her and many did just that. “How many am I watching Marie?” Michelle got right to the point, looking around for the kids.
“There will be five, our three and two others displaced from Africa. They are our temporary guests; however, I do have a nanny on hand for their needs. You will be fine, dear sister.”
Michelle smiled, “I know, you’ve probably taught them so well, to be little Marie’s; well, I won’t have anything to do as they’ll just wait upon me.” She laughed. Marie showed her to her room, stopping by the playroom with all the kids. Opening the door was like entering another world, a fantasy world filled with tea tables, books, dolls, trucks and playhouses and of course children. The well light room had chatter and energy, children created and lived their own fairy-tales in every detail. Michelle smiled warmly, and looked at her sister, Marie was meant to be a mother in every sense of the word.
“Erika and Elise, come here.” Marie called out. “Say hello.”
“Hi. We have missed you! Are you staying? Please say yes.” Elise asked and waited for an answer.
“Baby of course, I’m staying for the week. Will you take good care of your aunt while your mother goes off and gets married?”
“We’ll even make you breakfast in bed!” Erika added cutely with big eyes. Marie then led Michelle to her room, a large oversized bedroom, which was probably a master suite at one time or another. It faced the front yard and drive of the chateau, and one could look out large windows to see all the beautifully colored flowers. Michelle looked out the window and saw a strange man holding a bouquet of assorted flowers, sniffing them.
She asked, “Who’s that?” Marie followed her sister to the window, and looked out at the man as well.
“That is my new gardener, a floral gem, but he manages the vegetable gardens and also the fruit orchards.” Michelle gave another look at the man below thinking she’d like to meet him. “He even makes bird houses and you will see he has put them on the walkway to the river.” Marie added this and turned to survey the room. “Let me know what you might need, sister.”
“Nothing right now, Marie, thank you.” She set her belongings down and turned, quickly exiting the room and stepping down the stairs to the front door.
Once outside, she walked directly to the man with the bouquet. “Good afternoon,” she simply said. He looked up and smiled to see who had approached him. He noticed it was the girl from the window and she looked magnificent.
“Good afternoon, to you. These are for you.” Raoul, the new gardener, a friendly man with wits about him was a hidden treasure. He knew more things than many men alive, having lived a very full life, for which he did not disclose any details. He took her in, her scent was lovely, a distinct first class perfume, notably a Parisian sale. Raoul was primarily from Spain, his roots anyway, but he had traveled the world so in essence, he was at home anywhere. Dark hair, dark brown eyes and tanned skin with long dark eyelashes and full lips; he was a strong man with lean muscles from working the land. His good looks had an added advantage with his mesmerizing eyes.
“Thank you, you are very kind.” Michelle, surprised by this courteous gesture, smiled and dropped her eyes to the ground; she wasn’t quite sure where to look, and she might have blushed, unknowingly.
“It is nice to know I’ll have company around here when the two love birds depart for the coast.”
“By the way, your Paris scent suites you well; it’s one of my favorites,” he said.
She nodded, and he winked at her before he turned and walked away. Michelle, a bit flustered, retreated into the chateau and ran up the stairs, plopped on the queen bed, feeling rather dizzy. Lord, she thought, will I survive with him around here giving me flowers? Michelle Lillie Volnay could have just about anything she ever wanted, except she didn’t want for much and had not figured out what it is she did want. Her parents had risen up in the wine production and bottling business selling their land profitably. So she rambled through life visiting this and that, grappling with wares and businesses; clothing her specialty selling in Paris at a boutique all her own. She was happy, just not complete.
When she woke from a brief nap, she looked around the beautifully decorated and comfortable room with: soft pillows, breezy curtains and pastel colors throughout, all making her feel at home. This room held several antiques that came with the chateau from Nicolas and Olivier’s parents, and one in particular Michelle adored was the music box. It sat over in the corner and usually it was one of the first things she did upon arrival. So she got out of bed and put a steel record on, and wound up the old box. She quickly turned to go set out her toiletries on the vanity, an antique which housed pictures of the family, and an oval ceramic plate, colorfully hand painted with flowers made in Paris dated 1926. The bed was a four poster, white with gold painted inlays which Marie had put a canopy on over the top posts. Nice touch thought Michelle as she eyed the pictures hanging on the walls in groupings with their golden frames. One picture in particular caught Michelle’s attention as it was new, that of what seemed to be Marie’s garden near the river Loire. “Must be new, wonder who painted that?” she whispered.
The next day everyone was up early. “Good morning to everyone!” Nicolas bounded in the kitchen, happy as a lark.
66 KIM TROIKE
“Morning, Mr. Groom,” Michelle replied.
“Are you ready to be Mrs. Marie Lillia Volnay-Lavalle? He questioned his bride to be.
“I’m so ready, let’s go,” Marie answered quickly.
“Okay, enough, the two of you with your sugar coated sweetness is too much for me. Go, be on your way. We will survive here at home. Kids, we are going to have a very good time without the parents, right!” She nodded to them.
Marie was dressed casually in white capris and a sleeveless dark olive silk shirt with designer watch and gold bracelet, a long gold chain coin pendant necklace, and painted pink floral earrings, adding a touch of femininity. Nicolas, excited as ever with his boyish good looks and ever present charm, was also casually dressed in bronze pants and a dark purple collared knit short sleeved shirt, shoes and sexy shades. As it would take hours to get to the coast, they planned to listen to music and talk in the convertible. Later they’d stop for lunch.
Driving the open road and headed west the pair relaxed. Nicolas settled on a station playing some orchestral classics as background music for their conversation. “Marie, I’m sorry to bring this up again but let me just say this. I may have to go find my brother this summer, organize a group to go deep in the jungle and search. I need to be sure that I’ve done everything I can. He wouldn’t want me to risk my life but he would want someone to find him, release him.”
“Oh, I can hardly bear the thought of him being held somewhere and this not knowing, is killing me,” she said.
“I think the air force is close, they tell me that, but you know they have budgets and times are hard for everyone. I’m thinking with their help I need to organize a trip,” he said and hoped she understood. She looked at him dipping her head to look at him above her own shades.
“Of course, you must. I would do the same if it was you.” She just didn’t want to lose Nicolas-he was the sweetest man she’d ever known and he adored her like his queen.
“Baby, the rebels, if that’s who has him, can be one tough group. They fight to the finish as in death, hardly any negotiating is done. Bloody at times, ruthless. This is of course what I’ve heard,” Nicolas said.
“Then you must find really good people. Do you know any, Nicolas?” she truly wondered if he knew what he was getting himself into.
“No. But in talking with the air force they’ve come up with a list.” he said.
“A . . . list?” Marie asked.
“Yep, turns out, there are guys that have been in Special Forces all over the world, and sign up for this kind of thing.”
“Oh boy,” she muttered lowly.
INTO THE VINES 67
“Besides, one of the orphans we have right now has a cousin still alive and Olivier was going to try and retrieve her on this last mission. Both of them have seen the rebels and their leader, which she has been drawing in her class. The air force special unit has been looking at these and trying to decipher the whereabouts through these drawings, by the colors on the uniforms and hair and other distinguishing features. It’s amazing what children can remember, and what they store up in their brains,” he smiled.
“It will work out, for everyone, except the bad guys, Marie.” Marie smiled. “You love him so, that I can tell.”
Smiling back, Nicolas told her how all this began. “I remember when Olivier enlisted in the air force because he just liked to fly planes, a hobby, and he thought he might be a pilot for Air France someday.”
He turned to say. “They saw something in him they wanted, a confidence of knowing, brains and when put in an adverse situation, he had a solution. He could make up a story on the spot, convincingly, almost believing it himself. They wanted him for intelligence, but he wanted to fly. So they put the two together and percolated a master at just about anything he sets his site on. They don’t want to lose him, but somehow they know he’s a survivor so they think they have time. But I feel we must act, time moves quickly here, and he is still in the jungle.”
Marie put her hand over his, and looked out at the countryside to the right. She could see the river, but soon they would turn and veer to the coast. Marie changed the music, she wanted to hear vocals, some words to distance the conversation and begin anew. This was her honeymoon!
Their cottage, halfway between Nantes and Vannes, overlooked the ocean and out onto Belle Isle. She couldn’t wait to get there, but first they would have lunch at café Azure in Guerande; they had dined there before and found it delicious. Toasting with a glass of champagne Marie dreamily said. “I do hope, and pray for his return as I see a future with all of us, extended family and all, together at the vineyard. To all of us!”
“To all of us!” Nicolas joined in. The two of them visited the local grocery store, and bought items for the week at the cottage, before driving down the road again. Marie could see the ocean and the sun was halfway down the sky, setting before long, but they probably had time to watch the sunset on the beach.
Once at the cottage, Nicolas insisted upon carrying her over the threshold and inside. The structure was quaint and painted white, she looked around and noticed a few items of color: such as the flowers on the table, a painting with purple tulips, and an olive colored wreath on the wall. The minimalistic look gave way to such pristine beauty, so pure it made one feel whole and good; no wonder why the boys, Nicolas and Olivier frequently came here to stay with or without others. It gave you a sense of beginning, an inception, to start over and go forward, move on. This place was their mother’s childhood home, which they kept nicely taken care of.
It was an honor to be here and on her honeymoon. She gazed upon the purple tulips painting and then to the real flowers on the table and saw a note. She turned to Nicolas, he said, “Go ahead and open it.”
Swiftly she broke the seal, and read the card. “They’re from Brie, Brie from Savannah.” Brie read aloud, “To the lucky couple, Wish I could be there to help you celebrate, well, not your honeymoon. Lol. See you in July at the vineyard, yes, I’m coming.”
Nicolas put away the groceries, wine and champagne and made them a small appetizer. “Let’s go watch the sunset on the beach.”
Meanwhile, it was playtime in the Loire Valley. “Today is the day your mother gets married to her gorgeous fiancé, your future dad! We will call them later after the ceremony, and hear their news. In the meantime, what shall we do?” Michelle said.
Elise shouted, “I know, let’s play fashion show!” Her eyes brightened, hoping Aunt Michelle would say yes.
“Let’s invite Raoul to come, too.” Erika added without hesitating. “He loves perfume so he likes girly things, I think. I bet he would like clothes, too.” The girls giggled, not really knowing what was so funny, but Michelle was laughing too.
“Ladies, just to let you know, men can like girl things just like we women can like man things. Remember that, okay. I’m not sure what your mother preaches but equal duties ‘dudettes’ all the way!”
“That is not a word. Aunt Michelle, did you go to school?” Elise was pushing her.
“Sweetie, yes I did. I just want you to know how I feel about some things, you can decide later for yourself as you grow. And I know ‘dudettes’ is not a word, I made it up, and it’s my silly kid side.” She laughed.
“You are crazy, Auntie.” Erika decided. “I’ll tell you what’s crazy, I want to go smell the collection of perfumes the gardener has in the green house cottage. The ones you guys told me about. Is that where he has them? “Michelle asked.
“Oh yes, he has them, and you will like them. Come, we’ll show you, and you can smell them.” Elise sounded so sure of herself. The other kids in the room looked at Michelle with big eyes and smiled; they had all been to the gardener’s cottage, she could tell. All of them wandered down to the gardener’s greenhouse cottage, knocked on the door, and were delighted when Raoul answered, inviting them in. It was magical and high spirited. He showed Michelle his collection, and she tried a couple on; as he said no point in trying more than two or three, otherwise you spoil all of them. He was right about that, actually that was pretty good philosophy for most anything in life.
“Raoul, these are good, they are so fine,” she said and her eyes were big in amazement.
“Thank you kindly, I’ve been working hard at it, learning as I go.” They thanked him, and headed back up to the house.
“Oh, we forgot to ask him about the fashion show.” Erika pointed out.
“That’s okay. We’ll write an invitation, and ask him to dinner and the show; we’ll make it a party for tonight. Let’s go call your mother, and see how her day has been.” Michelle seemed rather delighted.
“Marie?” Michelle called out. The connection was horrible.
“Michelle, yes it’s me. I’m here. Can you hear me, now?” Marie kept trying. Marie went on and on about how perfect the cottage and beach were as they went for long walks in the ocean’s surf. The weather was cooperating and she and Nicolas were eating way too much.
“Marie, the children want to speak to you.” Marie practically wept with joy when she spoke to her girls.
“Sweeties, we will have a ceremony at the vineyard with you both in attendance and the little ones, too, okay?”
“Yes mom. Have fun. See you soon.” Elise was at ease.
“Marie, one more thing, a letter came today from the French Embassy. Would you like me to read it to you?”
“I would but I’d like to save it for tomorrow after our wedding. I don’t want anything to ruin the ceremony. Read it, if you like, but tell me about it tomorrow.” Marie did not want today spoiled, it could wait because what could she do, nothing at this point.
Michelle and all the children gathered in the cooking school kitchen. She had one of the twins write out an invitation and the other one deliver it. She turned her iPod on and instructed one of the children on how to select music. She instructed the others to pull out the recipes and pick out a few for tonight. She decided if they were going to put something like this on they might need a few more guests. Marie had told her to invite the guests at the cottages one night as she liked to do this once during their week long stay. So they made out a couple more invites, and took them to the cottages that were rented for the week. The more the merrier. Michelle had the nanny and a cook help her with the kitchen duties in gathering the supplies. They all grouped together, and then divided off to make their part. Once done and cooking, they set off to the closets to find the gowns they would model tonight.
“Miss Michelle, this fun.” One of the orphans told her in her new English.
“Yes, this is fun. What is your name?” Michelle was amused that she could speak so well.
“Name? Jackie, nice meets you.” She beamed.
“Cousin, Africa. Missing.” She ran off, and Michelle watched her dance around. After the kitchen prep was done, the clothes were gathered, and the music was selected; they set the large dining table, not quite sure how many would show up but wanting to be prepared. And prepared they were. This was going to be like a fancy tea party, a festive occasion. Raoul showed up an hour early with a special bottle of wine, homemade lemonade and iced tea mixed together and helping hands.
“Flowers! Flowers! We need flowers, Raoul!” Elise shouted at the top of her lungs.
“We forgot the centerpiece.”
“No problem, let’s go do it now.” He left with Elise to get some flowers from the garden.
At six o’clock an older couple arrived in the double story front foyer, and the children greeted them, and told them where to go for ‘happy hour’ which was the back covered porch overlooking the gardens. Appetizers and wine were served there as the iPod music played the children’s selections; a song by a young heartthrob along with an animated movie soundtrack, and even a couple rap songs rounded out with a few oldies from the 30’s n 40’s. A mother and daughter arrived as did two guys who said they were trekking around Europe this summer by bicycle. The guests mingled, and introduced themselves with their stories and plans. The total number for dinner was thirteen, eight adults and five kids.
All assembled at the fancy dining table promptly at seven as Michelle, Elise and Erika waited on the guests. The nanny and cook assisted also in the kitchen prep so the three could serve everyone. The twins were having fun waiting on their guests, and being polite taking their drink orders and preferred main course selection. This was downright fancy observed the guests from the cottages. What a delight! Spinach salad with strawberries, blueberries and walnuts with vinaigrette was served to all, and the main dishes were a choice between chicken parmesan with a side of spaghetti or stuffed pork chops, both served with cauliflower, celery and zucchini gratin. Crepes and a peach tart with ice cream were available for dessert. When it came time for dessert, all the kids went into the kitchen to make it, rolling up the crepes and adding brown sugar and cinnamon or cutting the fruit tart, then serving it to the dinner guests. The adults did the clean up so the kids could put together their fashion show; the older ones helped the younger ones to get dressed. They laughed and hurriedly tried on all sorts of gowns and dress up play-clothes Marie had in a special closet for this sort of thing.
Erika was the announcer. “Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you our fashion show for the summer of 2012. Please give a round of applause for every model. Here we go . . .”
One by one out they came in silk and taffeta princess style gowns, native style wear, and island wear. The littlest ones even had a dinosaur and lion outfit to come out in. The music was playing loud, but Erika’s voice was also loud and clear. Thanks to some microphone, probably made for adult karaoke, she sounded just right.
Later on when all the kids were put to bed and the company had departed, Michelle and Raoul stepped out to the back porch. “To you Michelle, the best babysitter around, the most fun for sure. I enjoyed every moment, and so did your guests.”
“Thank you, for being the perfect gentlemen, a wonderful accompaniment to my family of six!” she said graciously.
“I’d like to do something for you when you have time, maybe tomorrow?” he kindly asked.
“Yes,” she answered. She looked at him sweetly and smiled. “That would be nice.”
At the cottage on the coast … The wedded couple greeted each other in the morning. “Good morning, Mrs. Volnay-Lavalle!”
“Good morning, Mr. Volnay-Lavalle!”
“I think the twins will plan a party for us. What do you think?” Marie asked.
“Whatever they decide will be perfect.” Nicolas was as good as they come.
“Good. We must call Michelle or text her because she has received a letter from the French Embassy. I wanted to tell you but I had her hold it off until today, after our wedding.” Marie informed Nicolas.
“Okay, let’s find out.” Marie hit the speaker button and let Michelle read the letter aloud.
Marie and Nicholas Volnay-Lavalle,
Congratulations on your upcoming wedding. We wish you well. This letter is directed to you both as you have assisted us graciously in your services for the children we are helping. This mission has been a diplomacy mission for several years between countries which are friendly. Unfortunately, someone has taken advantage of Olivier’s expertise and mission’s and most likely has held him captive. We will not give out all the details, but he has been seen alive.
Nicolas, upon return from your honeymoon, please come to the embassy and we will discuss the next step. I have arranged a private citizen willing to assist you with the air forces help in these matters.
Thank you. See you soon.
Lieutenant Gerald de Toulouse
Marie gave a worried look to Nicolas and they hugged.
“Thank you Michelle!”
Somewhere in the Congo, Olivier was held captive. He’d never seen the person in charge of all this, but believed he wanted something from him. Otherwise, they would have killed him long ago. The rain forest, a thick jungle, was frankly really getting on his nerves, too many sounds. He’d become thin, having lost probably twenty pounds, he guessed, though food was plentiful now with all the fishing. He figured they’d grown tired of him and the camp decided to let him fish, after all he was in the middle of the jungle, they knew it and he knew it. Where was he going to run?
His young cohort was a girl named Hawa, who took him to the river every day to fish. She knew her way around, and their friendship in captivity developed. She said that Olivier saved her cousin in a desert storm way up north when they were trekking to find a village for food. He didn’t recognize her, but he did know who she was talking about, and found it rather incredible. Could it be the one he was looking for, way down here in the Congo? No, but it makes sense. That is why he is here, he has planes and supplies, which they want, which they know about through his desert missions. She said she was taken after he had rescued her cousin and she was with another family helping out, as her parents were dead. They told her about you, describing Olivier, and she heard the men talking about what they wanted. So, Olivier and Hawa, who fished and had loads of information, became friends, comrades in disguise; finding a way to communicate through looks, colors, descriptions and few words. She wanted to be with her cousin and Olivier wanted out of this place away from captivity. He knew things were ramping up as he’d seen a lot of activity lately, discussions about him, finger pointing and looks. He figured the directive had been given. The little girl had given him a few looks this week, which he couldn’t quite figure out, like she was sad or trying to figure something out. He knew one thing he was coming back for her as soon as he could, so he could reunite her with her sister at the vineyard. Day after day, it had been a long eight months, and he hoped something would happen soon. His planes were grounded somewhere on a strip near
INTO THE VINES 73
the base of a mountain, he estimated not too far from here. The little girl had signaled to him by a look and pointing of her finger, like she knew.
One day in the mud by the river bank she drew him what seemed like a map, pointing to a bird like display and he took this as the planes, as she had drawn two birds. For the past month every day Hawa and him were allowed to fish, almost alone as the guard would walk along the edge or retreat into the dense jungle back to the cabins, probably to sleep. This gave him alone time with her. He talked, and drew a few pictures himself telling her of his planes. She seemed very interested in his planes, and smiled when he told her what they could do; how far they could go over water, such as the ocean and even the desert. He explained this in sun positions in the sky and the moons. The more they were together the less was their language barrier.
Fishing became a solace for both of them.
Early one morning in what Olivier figured according to his calculations to be the month of June, Hawa, and him set out to go fishing. The guard acknowledged them, and mentioned to the little girl this was the final day. He caught the glances and stares, not understanding the language, and could tell by Hawa’s demeanor. With a determined will about her she drew him a scene in the mud. The rains two days before had swelled the river and then settled, leaving loads of fresh mud. Fishing was going to be good that day. He noticed pelicans, flamingos and seagulls gathered about; the fishing today would bring a huge dinner. He had seen his copilot and the other two pilots walking to a hut at the end of the row last week. They kept them apart but he had seen them, if he ever got the chance to depart here, and find his planes he would get them out also.
The guard stood on the eastern bank watching as Olivier, and the little girl paddled their flatbed raft across to the other side to fish where it was slightly deeper. Once on the other side, with the overhead sun blazing hot, the two cooled off with some water from camp. The little girl and her blue eyes smiled at him and she began to draw out her plan using the sun and the moon and mountains with arrows and birds and keys.
Keys, he noticed, figuring the guards keys and then he knew. Her expression told him everything, that night it would happen. He wondered though about his pilots and she drew one bird and two men and a third man with a big gun, the guard he thought. He drew her a map this time, hinting he would be back to get her, drawing two full moons and his bird hoping she would understand. She smiled and winked at him, nodding her head that she understood. He smiled.
After dinner he was sent to his hut, and locked in by the guard. The reason he was allowed to walk about during the day, he figured, where was he going to run with no supplies, no direction? It would be suicide to even attempt to run away in this jungle with no weapons or communication. The mountains alone looked treacherous, not to mention the wild animals lurking around every tree.
A couple hours after the sunset, he was released, and told to gather his items, of which he had none. He had shoes and clothes and a small bag from his plane, which usually held a weapon but they had confiscated that eight months ago. The guard, his copilot, two guides and himself walked out into the night, and headed in what he presumed to be the direction of his plane. At least this was a direction towards freedom, even if the guides, and the guard had weapons at their disposal and not afraid to use them. But they needed him and this was his ticket, to escape this captivity. He wanted to see his brother and his wife,
Marie as they were probably married by now. Daniela, he thought of her and missed her. She was probably devastated when she lost contact with him. He hated to put her through that. He liked her and wanted to get to know her better; this thought lightened his mood and brought a slight smile to his burdened face. He could taste freedom he thought, as he licked his salty lips, and blinked his eyes to see better in the night. He must remember how to get back to Hawa and his pilots from the other plane. Once he was in the air, he would know where he was. He had been drugged and carried from the plane initially eight months ago, that is why he had no idea of the planes whereabouts.
Why were we flying at night? He thought about that and could not conclude any ideas. About twenty or thirty minutes later they arrived at the plane, hidden under dense brush so as not to be visible from the air. What were these people doing and who were they hiding from? He had not a clue. His plane was so close, all this time. The little girl hinted at its closeness, but he had the feeling she didn’t know which direction either, or else she would have drawn the map for him to escape. He and his copilot were instructed by the guard to prepare the plane as it had already been fueled.
Michelle put her phone down, relieved that Marie and Nicolas seemed pleased and that something was imminent, possibly good news would be forthcoming. Michelle ran out of the main house to find the twins, and her new friend Raoul. She wanted to share this sort of good news. The kids were playing duck duck goose with Raoul and the other children. Something about children and their resilience, she could tell kids overcame tragedy much easier; well, maybe not easier just faster. They moved on quickly, rapidly, more so than adults. Maybe she was giving herself advice here, Michelle, let go of the excess baggage and live a little. What are you afraid of? The nanny of the orphan children invited all the kids to a pizza party with games down at the cottage by the river. Raoul had invited Michelle to a special dinner with him at his cottage as he wanted to show her his collection of perfumes.
Delighted at this invitation, Michelle donned her newest long length casual resort type dress. It has a special colorful flowered cross chest strapped yoke on a black background, and bordered with a braid that resembled a necklace. The garden green with light rose flowers pattern in silk and contrasted with a black background yielded her beauty with bronzed flawless skin. Her long honey blond hair cascaded down past her mostly bare shoulders. She slipped on comfortable gold flat shoes and set out into the early night. Barely containing her excitement, she hurried to the cottage. Raoul and Michelle tried out a few of his perfumes, and laughed as they walked around his greenhouse.
“Come, it’s time for dinner. Are you hungry?” Raoul had made her an artichoke and goat cheese calzone with marinara on the side. He had cooked it on his wood burning stove and served it up with a bottle of wine, a Shiraz with hints of cherry.
Michelle thought she had died and gone to heaven. “You are so talented Raoul, cooking over a fire stove and making it from scratch, just like that.” Later they shared slices of cherry pie he had made just for them. Marie thought to herself she could really like him and whispered, “Marie will be so mad to lose Raoul, her favorite gardener.”
In the Congo back in his plane Olivier and his copilot Andrew situated themselves at the helm, and fired up the engines after doing a round of checks twice, since it had been eight long months. The only reason they could come up with for this delay was someone wasn’t ready for a pick up until now. They would find out soon enough. The guard with the gun in hand and the two guides sat in the middle of the plane, with the guides right behind the pilots; the guard centered in the middle, usually where all the supplies are kept for Olivier’s missions, such as food, medicines, clothing, shoes, cooking supplies and a few toys. This mission it was empty, and where they were headed only the men from the Congo knew.
Once up in the air the men used the navigation system, during take-off and lifting up beyond the peaks, the moon assisted them casting a glow down below and Olivier saw the Congo River. It reminded him of braids and already he missed Hawa, her smile, her braids and her bravery. He looked over at Andrew when they ascended, and checked to see how he was faring from all of this. Andrew gave him a look of slight fear and uncertainty. Olivier reassured him, “We’ll get through this, hang on, and freedom will be ours again. We have the control now, though I know they get trigger happy, we will persevere. Do you hear me Andrew?” he questioned and wanted a response.
Olivier was now back in charge, in the driver’s seat, doing what he was trained and destined to do. Three hours into the trip, heading northwest from the equator midway over the desert, Olivier looked into his little mirror above his head and noticed all three men asleep. The motors must have silenced their evil minds and put Olivier in a precarious situation; how he would love to throw them overboard, lose them one way or another and fly home to safety and freedom. Nice thought Olivier.
One further glance into the mirror, and he saw her. He saw her give him the shush signal with her finger. Her big blue eyes stared straight into his, and he swallowed. What seemed like an eternity was a moment in time never to be taken back, and bravery faced with determination which he could not stop. Her hand was behind her on the switch, the switch he told her about. The one where someone would pull it, and all the supplies carefully placed would fall to the earth for the needy people below, only there were not any needy people below. She gave him one last look as if to say I’m doing this, okay? He blinked his eyes in disbelief himself, as he had no time to think. She pulled the lever, and immediately held on to the rail provided for this person at this post. The interior of the plane fell down, and so did the interior middle section. Like that the guard was displaced to the barren desert below in the middle of the night. He would not survive the fall at this altitude. The two guides survived with shocked eyes and immense disbelief. They stared at Olivier and his copilot and back to the little girl.
Smiles gradually displaced their looks of shock as they nodded approval. They had been held, and forced against their will for several years, losing their families they told the little girl, who conveyed this to Olivier. Andrew manipulated the center console to close, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
Olivier got up, and went to see Hawa, he hugged and held her. He was amazed she was even here. “How did you do this? How did you get on the plane?” stunned he asked these questions. “Where did you hide?” He looked behind her at the very small storage compartment. Yes, her size could fit in just about anywhere.
Olivier then returned to the front, brought her up with him, and placed her in a little jump seat to his side. “I better not show you how to fly a plane or you just might try that, too.” She shook her head as is to say no. Flying wasn’t really her thing. She wanted to see her cousin. “My cousin, my cousin.” She said it twice and he understood perfectly. He sat there stunned looking out towards the coast. They were almost to Portugal and Spain. The original plan from the guard had them loading up in Africa on the coast, and returning with supplies back to the Congo. Now he was free to land in Spain, fuel and then to Paris.
He smiled at her not really sure if she knew exactly what she did, what she felt compelled to do. She had seen much more than him, she had seen killings of prisoners and others for she had told him that along the banks. No wonder her determination to escape, and save him.
“Thanks,” he murmured.
“I,” she pointed to her heart, “save pilot,” she said and pointed to Olivier. He couldn’t believe her English. Yes, she had saved him.
And so they landed in Paris, and were greeted by the French Embassy and several air force pilots. Nicolas and Marie were called, and told. The three would be taken to a hospital, treated first, and then debriefed. The two captives would undergo psychological and physical testing as part of the government Special Forces treatment. A plan would be laid out before them and as for Hawa, well, the air force would take her to the valley after several days of treatment and tests. Marie would then look after her along with her sister.
Olivier wished he could be there for that. He was allowed to say hello to Marie and Nicolas over the phone for a few minutes. The doctor informed Marie that Olivier would need to spend three weeks in Paris recuperating with medications, and evaluations before they would release him to his family. Everyone understood and accepted this course. It would be outpatient once he had the tests done in the hospital. For the most part, the doctors were relieved as he seemed fine, a bit thin but looked good.
Psychological effects would be ongoing due to the effects of prison or captivity, which can be delayed, and usually manifests weeks or months later, sometimes years later. He got to see the little girl one last time before they set off for the Loire valley. Olivier wanted to know how she escaped, and so he asked her to draw a picture for her. She smiled so big and pulled a chain with a key, and a flashlight attached out of her pocket. She put the flashlight to the floor and pretended to follow the men as she zig-zagged the light back and forth.
The doctor told Olivier that the little girl was about eight or nine in years but very mature due to the events in her life.
“No doubt about that, you got that right!” Olivier exclaimed and took a breather bigger than a hot air balloon taking off for flight. Finally. Relaxing. At this point the report taken down and written was that the little girl pulled the switch as it was dark in the plane.
Olivier and his co-pilot had been kidnapped for eight months and the kidnapper had exited the plane via the supply delivery method. No further reports were necessary at this point in time. No one wanted rebels searching for a little girl. Olivier asked the lieutenant if he had a cell phone, and could he borrow it. He dialed Dr. Michael’s number, and left a message stating of his return. He would call back when he obtained a new cell in a few days, giving his regards to his daughter, Daniela.
The hospital released Olivier two days later, and he set out for his Paris residence. He knew someone who would be glad to see him, very glad, and was probably thinking he’d ditched her for a new place. He walked the rues, streets or avenues, until he was close to the Seine and within view of the Eiffel amidst the locals, off a side street and not too far from Moulin Rouge. His place called The French Bleu was a jazz night club he bought many moons ago. He let a lady friend at the time run the place. They needed each other, he needed her friendship, and she needed a man to take care of her, just for a short time. Her man had run out on her and left her in a mess. The mess he left was bills and a fragile wife alone with a child in need. Olivier, ever a gentleman, stepped in when he heard her sing one night at a bar. He had just purchased The Bleu and was in need of talent. Darlene was a singer, a bluesy jazz singer with pipes that could stretch and send you places. She needed a venue and he needed a place in Paris to come ‘home’ to now and then. So it worked for both of them. She managed the place as her own, and he stayed upstairs in a room when in town. He helped out when he could with the patrons, food and drinks and hired gigs occasionally. He even cleaned the place at times. This was his home in Paris. And randomly he played his guitar, and let her sing, both enjoyed this time together.
He picked up the pace to his place. He heard the music from the corner. Darlene, a strong and grounded black woman, with a heart as deep as the English Channel liked to keep the doors wide open and let the music breathe as she liked to say.
“Like wine, it needs to mingle with the air.”
Olivier stood in the doorway looking around. This felt good to be on solid ground in a familiar place, he headed to the stairs and then he heard her voice.
“Stranger, hey, where you been all my life?”
“I’ve been waiting for you. That is where,” he replied with opened arms for a long overdue hug. She eyed him up and down, and surmised this was not a good situation as he looked thinner than usual.
“It’s bad, something bad happened, didn’t it?”
Searching his face now, she knew all was not well. His eyes glossed over spilling a single tear he quickly rubbed away. “Darlene, honey, it’s a long story. I’d love to tell you but I’m so tired I might leave out the good parts, the parts you’ll scold me on. Can it wait for the morning latte?”
“Sure baby. You go upstairs, and I’ll bring you dinner.” She smiled as it was always sweet to have him here. Running the French Bleu, a jazz club with a café feel and a touch of vintage, here and there, she’d made it a favorite for locals, and Americans who ventured off the glorified path. Business was great, definitely in the black even in these dismal times. Today was Tuesday, and Darlene had a gal booked for Friday who was supposed to be sensational! Certainly, Olivier would be better by then, she hoped. She went to the kitchen to make him some dinner. He thanked her and she left, knowing he just wanted some time alone. He never left his room for three days.
Friday she took him some lunch, and he looked a mess, unshaven, hair disheveled as he’d hardly left the bed. “What on earth is going on, Olivier?” she questioned him. He looked around, and he too wondered, a little, what he was doing, but didn’t care. Darlene went over to his phone she had bought him on Wednesday and checked it for messages.
Scrolling through, she came to a text message from Dr. Michaels,
Oh Olivier . . . I need to talk with you right away. It is about Daniela. Please call me as soon as possible. I’m relieved to hear your voice and to know that you are alive!
Darlene went over to the bed, and sat next to Olivier. She touched and stroked his hair lovingly and then cupping his cheeks she inquired, “Tell me, Olivier, what happened to Daniela?”
“I wanted to know her more and I was to visit her in December. My plane was overtaken by the rebels; they hijacked us at gunpoint and forced us into the jungle, the Congo, where we waited month after month. No one knew we were there.” He looked at her.
“My copilot, Andrew, and I spent eight months in that hot god-forsaken jail near the Congo. The embassy didn’t call you?”
“How come I didn’t know this? I’m so sorry baby. I am going to take care of you, feed you and get you better,” Darlene said and felt so bad for him at this moment.
“Daniela, she was a good person, just starting out in life, a nurse with dreams. I gave her my mother’s necklace, a gift for our friendship and now she’s gone, no longer here,” he choked on those words.
“I am so sorry she’s gone, she was too young. Tell me what happened.” Olivier slowly told her the story he had been told from Dr. Michael’s. Shaking her head in despair, she said, “Olivier, at least shower. You don’t need to be your old self just yet, take a few weeks here, recuperate and let yourself mend slowly. I will bring you food, and share conversation; maybe you’ll come down, and hear some music to cheer you. Let’s do this together! You will be better than ever.” She smiled and kissed his forehead. “I should have inquired but several times you have left for six to nine months, so I wasn’t worried, yet.”
He rubbed his forehead and ran his hand through his hair, he was thankful for Darlene.
The chateau saw the return of Nicolas and Marie and then the arrival of the little girl with Lieutenant Gerald de Toulouse. This was a festive occasion, minus Olivier, however, knowing he was safe, and recuperating made everyone smile. Michelle and Raoul were discovering scents and flowers together. Marie and Nicolas were now married and happy to see the twins and other little children. Summer was here, oh yes, as Paris had already started to heat up and it wasn’t even July.
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