"Momma, I'm only asking this favor because I need to be with Claude
right now. Something's gone down in his time, and he needs my help," I
said frantically as I flipped through my address book. Jacki's message
was urgent enough to cause me to drop everything and prepare for an extended
stay in the 15th Century. Someone had taken Jehan's time traveler, and
then there was the discovery of yet another body.
This man, this Marcel Rougelot, also known as "le Chameleon" to many Parisians, had just ended another life. Of course, I couldn't tell my mother EVERYTHING, but she was more than pleased to do this one favor.
"Danisha, you know I would love to help you out this way! Since when did you have to ask permission for...?"
While giving my mother further instructions, I glanced over at Claude,
who was busily conversing with Jacki whilst her twin sons, Mark and Marshall,
played nearby. Jacki had already dispatched Tony and Fern to 15th Century
France; it was perfectly understandable why she couldn't accompany Claude on this particular case.
In a secret room tucked away in the Terrell basement, the tracking device was merrily beeping away. This wondrous device -- a panel of buttons, screens, and lights -- beeped madly in search of a time-traveling criminal. We have to find him...History may be changed as we speak...What happened exactly? What caused Jehan to drop his guard? Even a spendthrift, overgrown layabout like him knows better than to allow....
"My love, I trust you have made the necessary arrangements", said Claude
Frollo as Jacki busily tracked the location of Jehan's transtemporal device.
"Don't worry, sugarbritches", I reassured him, "Momma said she and Daddy
will hold down the fort while..."
My words were cut short by Mark's voice, "Look, Aunt Nisha! Mommy's found Mr. Jehan's pager!" Little four-year-old Mark pointed to the screen, and indeed, Jacki had pinpointed the precise location, but only in time. It would take further tracking to determine Rougelot's exact geographical location. "Now all I have do is nail down the precise country, city...Hmm...let's see..." Jacki depressed a series of buttons whilst Claude and I looked on. I glanced at Claude and momentarily allowed myself a little amusement. Poor Claude! Sometimes technology can be so overwhelming! The look on his face as Jacki entered codes...
After several fleeting seconds which seemed more like hours, and I could tell that Claude was as exasperated as Jacki, I finally asked, "Jacki, has Tony or Fern gotten anything out of Jehan?"
Jacki only shook her head, her eyes never wavering from the screen. "Not everything, but believe me, Jehan feels pretty bad about the whole deal..."
At that moment, Claude Frollo fidgeted nervously. Those signs were unmistakable:
The flick of the fingers, the twitch of the mouth, the darkening of his
eyes. Yes, anytime, my baby will explode...
I asked, "Jacki, maybe you better send the boys upstairs...?" She only had to take one look at Claude, then said to the boys, "Mark, Marshall...why don't you boys go upstairs and show Nisha your new playthings." For those two little fireballs, it was an excuse to show off, according to Marshall, "Mark's new race car bed!"
Of course, Jacki, for all her admiration for Claude Frollo, was fully aware of his explosive temper. I agreed: Four-year-old boys are hardly an audience for a full-tilt "Frollo rage".
Claude, silently acknowledging Jacki's nod, smiled thinly as the boys led me upstairs. Neither he nor Jacki would divulge details of their conversation, and he wouldn't wait for me. Within the span of the thirty-odd minutes I spent with the boys, Tony had sent a message to Jacki. That message spurred Claude to contact someone else -- by telephone of all things; then Claude took off for the 15th without me. I wouldn't see him again until much later that evening, and that was after Claude had fully interrogated his own brother -- in the 15th Century -- in Claude's dungeons.
What's taking so long? Why wouldn't Claude tell me what he told Jacki?
What's the deal with all the secrecy? Jacki said Claude made a phone call
while I was upstairs with the boys. Claude Frollo? A man of the late 1400s?
On the telephone? Why?
I wish I knew what was going on...Neither Fern nor Tony have yet to tell me anything...They're downstairs with Claude and Jehan...Why did Claude throw his own brother in the dungeons?
That poor man they found down by the docks...Quasi found him...I knew him...He was one of my many Parisian friends, albeit very briefly...
In the dim light of what few candles that scattered about the room,
I struggled to stay focused on my book. The more I endeavored to concentrate,
the more my eyes blurred and stung from profound weariness -- and grief.
I had arrived in the 15th much later that evening; I was in such a rush, and so stressed, that I never bothered to change my clothes. All I could do was to throw a few items into a bag; then I had to call Momma again just to make sure things were all right.
Just as always, Momma reassured me that "All is well, Danisha. Don't worry so!" I certainly hope so, Momma, but I know everything's in good hands...
To hell with this book! I can't read, can't think, can't concentrate...
I paced the floor, ran my fingers through my now-disheveled hair, and
repeatedly fidgeted with the little silver charm bracelet I held in my
hand. I looked at each and every charm as I turned them over and over...
Claude was with me when I bought this bracelet...He suggested the charms...Every Christmas, he adds a new charm...I wonder if this will be the last Christmas we will spend together -- Or was last Christmas truly the last...
Alone in my private chamber, with the crackle of the fire and the
clickety-clack of my spiked heels on the stone floor as the only sounds, I continued to pace
about. My eyes kept burning; my throat tightened, as I fought back tears.
This can't be happening! Jehan has lost his time traveler -- to a madman! Come on, Jacki! Find this guy! For all we know, Marcel Rougelot may be changing history as we know it. And what will THAT mean for all of us?
I shuddered to think of it all, but I vividly recalled Quasimodo's brief, yet detailed accounts of the events leading up to 'le Chameleon's" latest crime. So senseless...Poor Bernard...He was almost like a brother...so young and full of promise...HE needed a friend, and finally found one in me...
I met Bernard LaCroix the previous October, during one of my last visits to medieval France. It was late afternoon and I, as part of my usual routine, stopped in La Belle d'Avignon. Old Victor Jouet, the tavern's owner, had just tossed out a few ruffians who had been harassing a young man. The boy couldn't have been more than eighteen, but he seemed so self-possessed, so poised. I had watched him ever since he came to town; my curiosity was decidedly piqued. Why? Because, now there was someone else in town who looked almost like -- ME!
You see, Bernard LaCroix had arrived in Paris from Nantes, home of France's
major slave market. Yet Bernard was no slave. He had come to Paris in the
company of his father, Vincent LaCroix.
THAT'S RIGHT! -- Bernard was a mulatto -- the son of a Nantes merchant and a Mandinga woman. This woman, whose original Senegalese name was Binata Diop, but christened Isabelle, was the daughter of a Mandinga prince.
"The black people in Nantes keep saying I am descended from royalty," he jokingly said to me on several occasions.
At first I thought those guys were teasing Bernard about his mixed heritage,
but I was wrong. I still remembered Daddy's and Dr. Parsons' papers on
the Black presence in medieval Europe, before 1500. There still wasn't
much premium placed on skin color -- If anything, skin color was a matter
of personal preference. In this late medieval age, having dark skin ws
never applied to the Negro phenotype -- No one in Paris ever deemed me
inherently inferior simply because I'm Black.
The fact that Bernard was half Black never became an issue as far as his intelligence was concerned. The boy was baptized in The Faith, so the question of his religious leanings were never held suspect. Rather, Bernard obviously had 'new kid in town' written all over his face -- Despite the self-assuredness, Bernie (as I had addressed him) was hopelessly lost in this teeming medieval metropolis.
I was one of his first friends; I kindly offered to treat him to wine and conversation. During our brief friendship, I learned a lot about Bernard LaCroix -- How he had learned his father's trade as a spice merchant, and how eager he was to make his father proud. Actually, I was quite taken with this remarkable young man; his physical appearance made quite the impact. He was tall and robust, with a complexion reminiscent of creamy butterscotch pudding. He had the sweetest hazel eyes, and a sharp mind.
Bernard was surprised, and intrigued, when I revealed I was from the 'New World'.
"The New World! Why, I've always wanted to go there! Tell me, Mlle. Danisha, are the mountains really made of pure gold?" I hated to burst his bubble, but I indulged him with a few details of my life. No way was I to reveal, to him, that I was from the future. I supposed he was more intrigued when he realized that I was of mixed heritage.
Bernard gazed at me for several seconds, studying my every feature, then said, "Mlle. Danisha, there are many more like me. Many have married into fine families, and have reared beautiful and able children. I have had few problems in my life; I accept who I am, and my father has accepted that fact. My parents love me, and I love them." Amazing, that within the next three centuries, not too many of Bernard's American counterparts would be able to utter those words, much less experience the degree of freedom Bernard and I enjoyed. Even the slaves had greater freedom than what awaits their 18th and 19th Century brothers and sisters.
So Bernard and I spent a pleasant afternoon of insightful conversation and good drink. He told me all about his father's spice trade. "He's one of the best in France. Actually, we've been in Venice the past summer, a culinary expedition if you will. Father wanted to learn Venetian ways with spices, so he thought it would be good for business if we presented to the King samples of fine Italian sweets."
At that very moment Bernard and I began what was to be a short-lived
friendship, Vincent LaCroix was making a special presentation to His Majesty.
One of the finest spice merchants in France, the elder LaCroix presented,
to the King, a sampling of rare and delicate sweets and cakes. What was
so special about these unusual treats? They were specially prepared by
Martino, a cutting-edge Venetian chef whose sugar-and-spice creations were
renown throughout northern Italy.
I remember André d'Arcy recounting his gastronomic adventures in Venice...No wonder he loved the city so much...
Later that day, I would learn all the details of Vincent's special visit, for someone else had the good fortune of being in the right place at the right time -- The Minister of Justice himself. As Claude later said as he popped a cinnamon-kissed candied walnut tartlet -- That was tasty! -- into my mouth, "My dearest, the LaCroixes have taken Paris by storm. I have no doubt that young Bernard will follow in his father's footsteps." Yeah...Son of a Mandinga princess and a French merchant...The boy who would be king may soon be known as the "King of Mace"...Get it?
I had hoped to see more of Bernard LaCroix, but things, like work and family, got in the way. Claude Frollo kept me abreast of all that was happening in Bernard's life, however complications in my own life prevented me from personally cheering Bernard on. I should've listened to my mother: "Danisha, don't wait too long to contact those you love...Sometimes, when you least suspect it, fate will come along and change everything."
And she was right.
Right before I departed for the 15th Century, Quasimodo had sent another
message to Jacki; he wanted to see me as soon as I arrived. I knew Claude
would be occupied with Jehan and all, and poor Quasi sounded shaken up.
After all, he found the body...Poor Quas...Bernard was his friend too...
Quasi told me that he saw Bernard at Notre Dame earlier that afternoon, "Attending noon Mass, like he always does. Nisha, he seldom alters his routine -- It was what happened afterwards that made me suspicious."
By 'suspicious', the bellringer meant that Bernard left the cathedral with another man, "A tall, dark-haired gentleman. I've seen him around town before, but there was something about him I didn't trust."
That was all Quasi could tell me, but he did say that he and Bernard would often go to La Belle d'Avignon, "on alternate afternoons -- We would have a little wine, a little conversation...That's it." By that, Quasimodo meant that the pair spent an hour or so in Victor Jouet's tavern. However, on this day, when Quasi walked into the tavern, Bernard was no where to be found. Victor told the bellringer that the younger LaCroix had come in with a dark-haired man, had a few beers, then the pair left together. Of course Quasi thought nothing of it; nonetheless, he went back to the tavern later that evening. But Quasi had been detained -- he stopped to help an old fisherman moor his boat. And that's when they found Bernard's body.
"It was awful, Nisha", Quasi later recounted to me. "He was almost unrecognizable; his head was all bashed in. The only way I could identify him was by his clothes, and by that wooden rosary he carried all the time."
That was all Quasi could say, but what about Jehan? How did he get mixed up in this? My question would be answered in due time; but first, I had to convince a very distraught Claude Frollo that my help would be vital. He, of course, was not easy to persuade...but...
"NO! Danisha, I will not allow it!"
"But, Claude, you need my help -- Heck, you'll need help from all of us!"
It was well after midnight when Claude finally returned from his interview
with Jehan. He also had the unfortunate duty of informing Vincent LaCroix
of Bernard's murder.
"Of all my duties...Nisha, how can one break such news to a man? Believe me, I was exceedingly cautious, gentle...My love," Claude choked slightly then continued. "My darling, Vincent immediately broke down when I informed him..."
Now I tried to hold back tears. I held the man I loved; I held him tightly, as if I wanted to shield him from all the terrible things that had happened. "What else could M. LaCroix do? He lost his only son..."
Claude kissed me deeply, reassuredly, and with such warmth and passion. I could feel his warm breath upon my face, and taste the saltiness of tears. He held my hand and at once recognized the silver charm bracelet still tightly clutched therein. We stretched across his enormous velvet-draped bed; he tenderly kissed my hands again and said, "My beloved, you do realize that this can be dangerous, even fatal. One or all of us may not come back alive. If I know Rougelot..."
He stopped himself, sighed, then continued, "Danisha, I understand why you want to accompany me, but darling, I simply can't risk leaving our..."
I shushed him with a kiss. "Claude Frollo, I am well aware of, and accept,
the risks and consequences. If anything will keep that survival instinct
We beheld that charm bracelet, and reminisced over each of the four tiny charms. After a few fleeting moments of silence, Claude said at last, "Danisha, my love, I -- we -- are embarking upon the most unusual, and most dangerous, manhunt to date. We are in pursuit of a deadly criminal; a man wanted for a series of murders, culminating in Bernard LaCroix's death."
He kissed me again, held me close, then continued, "Dearest, please understand that all I want is your safety, after all..."
Claude went on and on about how he truly valued our relationship, and
he expressed that he may never forgive himself if something ever happened
to me. "What will I tell...?"
He let out a deep breath, then said, "We are to leave within the next hour. Jacqueline has tracked down Rougelot's whereabouts; Fern and Antoine have already departed."
"But, Claude, what about Jehan?"
He arose from the bed, paced about the room, then said in a voice full of fury, "My brother is presently locked away in my dungeons, where he will remain until we return -- with Rougelot!"
Claude maintained that it was Jehan's carelessness which sparked Marcel Rougelot's flight through time. But how did that guy find out about the time traveler? Unless...
I felt myself swoon slightly, as I shot Claude a look of disbelief, saying, "Oh Claude, don't tell me Jehan showed Marcel how to..."
Claude Frollo exploded! "Yes Jehan did just that! Of all the stupid,
I indulged Claude Frollo as he damned his only brother -- the only family he truly has. Maybe locking Jehan was a blessing...What if Marcel Rougelot comes back? But I still don't get it...How did Jehan get mixed up in all this? Why? What's the deal...And what if Rougelot is changing history as we speak...?
Suddenly, my pager went off; it was Jacki.
Nisha & Claude:
I finally tracked down Rougelot, but I guess Claude has told you all this. You need to leave within the hour as we have much to discuss. We are about to interact with people of different time periods...Claude may not be familiar with America circa 1850...That's where Rougelot went. Iggy and Cissy are your contacts. When you arrive, you will be taken to a house on D Street. Please heed all cautions as to dress and behavior -- The slightest slip-up may prove fatal. Good Luck. Tell Tony I miss him and that the boys send him their love.
P.S. If you should run into Jesse Benton-Fremont, tell her 'Jenny' says 'Hello'.
I looked at Claude after I read aloud the message. The look on his face,
his tender words of sheer earnestness, said it all. "Danisha, I love you.
Believe me that I will need all of your strength, all your love..."
Indeed, we BOTH needed each other's strength and love. Within the next two weeks, we would witness some of the most spectacular events in American history. We would also stare Death in the face many times before it was all over. In time I would learn of all the connections: Claude, Prof. Parsons, Bernard, Aunt Eula...and myself.
Two men -- One was black-haired, side-whiskered, Roman-nosed, deep-spoken, and possessed powerful, athletic physique. The other man was short, blond, round-faced; the round spectacles perched firmly on his nose. Both men were discussing the fate of the young republic when a servant entered the room with some news. The old woman, her heavy figure clad in red gingham and apron, cautiously called out in a slow, decidedly Virginia drawl, "Beg pardon, suh, but Miz Eliz'beth is a-callin' fer ya, suh."
The large man arose from his chair, gallantly bowed to his guest, then
said at last, "Mr. McMullen, it's getting late..."
He paused a bit to emit a rough-edged chuckle. "My wife does get rather uneasy when I keep such late hours." Daniel McMullen arose from his chair, shook his host's hand, saying, "Oh I understand, sir, as I have one waiting up for me."
Both men laughed then bid their good-byes. Once outside, Daniel "Iggy" McMullen donned the tall beaver hat and adjusted the long black woolen cloak. He tugged at his stiff collar -- "Damn, and this will be my uniform for the next...Oh man, why couldn't it be 1950 instead of 1850?"
He blew out his cheeks and began the long walk home. And that's another
thing...No paved streets, all this mud and dampness...Why did they put
the capital here of all places? In a swamp? Geesh...
Beep! Beep! Beep! Hey, that's my transtemporal communicator...Boy, I'm glad this thing didn't go off when I was talkin' with Old Bullion Benton...
Iggy's eyes popped when he read the message:
We are on our way -- that's Claude and me. Thought I'd let you know that. Oh yes, if you should run into a Frenchman dressed in medieval clothes -- STAY AWAY AND CALL US ASAP!
Iggy smiled. Well, what do you know? The Minister of Justice is coming
to 1850...Hey, wonder what he'll make of all this? Oh well, like he says,
Danisha's questions about Jehan are finally answered...The Minister of Justice issues a stern warning...Our time traveling friends have 'roles' to play...Rougelot commits another murder -- and worms his way into Washington society..
Go To TIME 2:1
©Copyright 1998 by FrolloFreak.