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VIII. A FEAST OF FOOLS


Chapter 5

Meanwhile, Gus got up, aided by Sister Santarovel.

“Thanks, sister,” he said, feeling his nose to make sure it wasn’t broken. “That’s a wallop you pack there. I guess you can add ‘vigilante’ to the list of your accomplishments.”

Sister Christina tucked a strand of black hair under her wimple. “Semi-pro tennis, before,” she said with a grin. “Never thought it would come in handy like that, though.”

“However, that was most invigorating,” she said, still breathing hard. She bent to pick up her pen, and caught Gus staring at her.

She smiled, wagging her pen at him, “Now, now, Professor, impure thoughts!”

Gus blushed visibly, but couldn’t stop himself from saying, “Sorry, sister. Perhaps I should be spanked.”

She lifted an eyebrow but her smile didn’t diminish. “Intriguing offer; but wouldn’t that just compound the problem?” she purred, running the pen across her lower lip. “Perhaps I should depart and end this near occasion of sin.”

“Too late for me, I’m afraid,” Gus apologized with a smile. He moved slightly to shake her hand but thought better of it, and waved awkwardly instead. “Thanks again, for both my sister and myself.”

“I was happy to help, and nice meeting you. Perhaps I’ll see you again.”

She turned to face a policeman who requested a description of the perpetrators. With a final glance at Gus, away she went.

By now, the garden swarmed with uniformed gendarmes and the Chateau’s security personnel. They helped the waiter stand, who began issuing brisk orders. They saluted and moved rapidly to obey. He helped Allie rise.

“Who are you?” she demanded.

“Not your guardian angel, I fear, though I’ve little doubt he must be severely overworked, ” he said with a forced smile. Holding up a hand to halt her questions, “Pardon me just a moment, Mademoiselle MacLantis,” he said. “We must try to apprehend those ruffians.” He took a radio from an officer and spoke in a fluid rush.

“There, please sit,” he said, “medics will be here in a moment.” He helped her to the steps of the chapel. “Are you hurt? Your lip is bleeding.”

Allie touched her swollen lip, and looked at the red drop upon her finger as if surprised, tasting blood. She stared at him. “Who are you?” she asked and again, “Don’t I know you?”

Gus quit staring after the nun and came over. “Are you the officer in charge?” he asked.

“Oui, yes, I am, Monsieur MacLantis,” Anton said, drawing himself up as best he could. He shook Gus’s hand.

“Thanks for your help saving my sister from those thugs, Monsieur… ?”

“Special Agent Anton Marcel,” the man announced, producing a badge and identification, “omnibus agent-at-large of E.U.R.E.C.A. – the European Union Registry of Extraordinary Cultural Artifacts, Maundy Grail desk, assigned to keep an eye upon this event. Fortunately, I chose to do so close at hand.” He sat gingerly on the worn stone step.

“Pleased to meet you. Agent Sundog gave me your name. He said you were the man to talk to,” Gus said. “But I didn’t expect you to be so close, or undercover.”

Marcel shook his head. “Not doing anything sinister, I assure you, Professor, though I cannot speak for member states with their own people here. My agency is here strictly at the request of the French government as monitors to keep the peace if anything should happen.”

“That’s what I heard,” Gus said. “Sounds like you drew the short stick, buddy.”

As a male nurse knelt by Allie, Marcel smiled ruefully at Gus. “There are far worse assignments; I’m grateful not to be stuck chasing will o’ wisps in a dismal northern swamp, or a moldy catacomb God-knows-where.”

“Who were those guys?” Gus asked. “Why were they after my sister?”

“Possibly common criminals, would-be kidnappers,” Marcel shrugged, “or maybe something more sinister. I note your sister is wearing a flattering outfit like Miss Salvage’s.”

Allie tried to speak, but the nurse prevented her.

“In either case,” the agent continued, “as a precaution, I rather think an escort to the hotel for Mademoiselle MacLantis is in order.” He gestured to several uniformed officers.

“But sir,” Allie objected, “I wanted to visit the Cathedral.”

“Oh?” Marcel shook his head. “I am informed the South Transept is already packed with people. And after what just happened here, I do not think it wise. I will be happy to personally escort you to your suite,” he said, putting on his white wig with a gallant flourish.

She sighed. “I suppose I owe to you to go gracefully,” Allie said. “Very well, Omnibus Agent Marcel, I accept your kind offer.” Gus choked back a chuckle.

“Pardon me for a second,” Agent Marcel said. “I must arrange for means to convey this fair lady to the hotel.”

The medic finished, leaving Allie wrapped in a blanket, with a compress for her cheek. “Wait,” she said, before Marcel could leave. “I know who you are, now.”

“Indeed,” he said with amusement, crossing his arms. “Who might that be?”

“You’re the waiter from Café Mystérieux, Alphonse, are you not?”

“Ah ha, a good joke, mad–”

She continued, relentless, “And you were the cop at the Cathedral.”

“I fear, mademoiselle, you have bumped your head.”

“…And later, you were at the debate, weren’t you?”

“Perhaps you saw my cousin –”

“Does he have a mole under his left ear also?”

“I have many cousins, Miss MacLantis. Doubtless a few of them have moles.”

“Why won’t you admit it?” Allie asked. “I take it you don’t like being noticed.”

“In my profession, it is often safer not to be personally noted,” Marcel explained with obvious unease. “But I confess; you have me. Due to my ordinary appearance, I was considered one of the most anonymous until now. Yet, to tell you the truth, I’m not entirely displeased it was you who have blown my cover, though your apparent effortlessness gives me something to ponder.” He graciously bowed. “Please wait here with your brother, I’ll be back soon.”

Allie turned to Gus, who watched with amusement. “I’m not sure what any of this is about,” she said. “Thanks for the rescue. I’m fine now. You don’t need to stay.”

“You appear to be in good hands, sis,” Gus grinned. “I can take the hint.”

Marcel returned before she could reply. But neither of them objected when her brother suddenly took his leave.

 


 

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“That very night,
with praise and thanksgiving
we flogged and bathed each other in the full assurance of Heaven’s grace.
No embrace was spared among us,
I admit,
for it was revealed to us that we had passed the test. ”

– Fr. Martin the Sanguine Miracles of the
Scolding Virgin
,

c. 1357

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