All alone in his private chambers, Judge Claude Frollo stood before the full length mirror and studied his reflection. He found it so incredible that he had only returned to Paris, to the late 15th Century only two days ago. Frollo, despite the slight pain in his right side, actually felt wonderful, almost refreshed. At last, after months of diligent investigation, capped by a perilous chase through the annuls of time, Claude Frollo had succeeded in ending Marcel Rougelot's murderous rampage. Frollo left the man who fancied himself as 'le Chameleon' in the year 1968, in a rambling rundown frame house somewhere in the American Heartland. He killed him -- Claude Frollo killed Rougelot -- pushed the man into a partially filled bathtub then tossed in an old radio that, as Frollo later learned, had been 'souped up' by Iggy McMullen's former classmate. "Yeah," explained the old hippie, "he put all kinds of wires and tubes in there...But the thing wasn't too safe...When you tossed that baby in that tub, well...Poor Marcel didn't stand a chance."
Frollo returned to his desk and began to put away Nisha's journals. He remembered what she told him before he left for his time. "Claude, I am so grateful to you...Since I've known you, that's three times you saved my life." Judge Frollo smiled to himself as he rechecked the drawer lock. Yes...I saved her life, and I'd do again and again...Marcel had no idea that I would so quickly end his life, but then again, he had coldly and cruelly ended so many...
"Claude? Hey, it's me, Fern. Are you decent?," called out a familiar
voice. The 15th Century magistrate smiled even broader as his eyes shifted
to the tall queen sized woman approaching him. This was Fern Grigsby, Claude
Frollo's postmodern American spy. She was dressed in a stylish holiday
ensemble consisting of a rich black velvet suit, matching pumps, gold and
diamond jewelry, and a plush black mink coat. Her shoulder length reddish
blonde hair, now graying at the temples, was pulled back in a neat chignon.
"It's a might cold out there, Claude, even more so in Indy...I like your
Claude Frollo smiled then strode out to the middle of the cavernous chamber and slowly turned to show off his post-modern dress. Often praised for his fine fashion sense, the Minister of Justice wore a simple black three-piece suit, complete with deep purple shirt and black silk necktie. The ever-present rings graced his long slender fingers, and the black patent shoes sparkled brilliantly. "My dear Fern, if I hadn't promised Nisha I'd do this...".
He glanced over at his desk where within contained Danisha's journals. Fern completely understood this; she gently said, "I know you're still hurting, physically. The doc said you can go on with routine stuff, but take it easy." She peered into Claude Frollo's eyes, adding, "You've been reading those journal entries again. I know you're still upset over what went down, but..."
The medieval magistrate became agitated then voiced his concerns. "Fern, I am not in the least bit sorry that Marcel is dead...I had to kill him or else everyone's futures surely would have been jeopardized. As for Jehan, I finally learned he was an innocent pawn in one of the worst murder conspiracies...."
He turned toward the massive fireplace, stared into the roaring flames then said, "The masterminds behind the murder plot, and their accomplices, are now in custody; they are to stand trial for their crimes...Old wounds, Fern...that conspiracy against me those many years ago...Several people were involved, people who once had ties to that blackhearted Jean-Michel duChamps...I had no idea the man had other children...They used my associates...They were trusted friends and colleagues, Fern, and they betrayed me...They nearly killed my own brother, although I blame him as much; he is so weak-minded and self-absorbed ..Jehan is recuperating at Chateau d'Arcy...And...Fern, did you follow up on Marcel...?"
Frollo's post-modern spy, taking in all the Minister of Justice had revealed, immediately responded, "Oh you mean what happened after we split for the 21st? Well, I went back to '68 only to check out the house, you know, to sort of 'clean up' if you know what I mean. The cops had already been there -- I started asking around the 'hood because I was afraid our cover would get blown sky high..."
She continued to tell Claude Frollo that a group of young boys, in search of a secret clubhouse, broke into the dilapidated house then discovered Marcel Rougelot's body floating in the tub. The police, armed with a description of a man who had kidnapped a little girl the night before, wrote off the death as accidental: The John Doe was simply a drifter with no ID and no distinguishable markings. According to the report, the man simply broke into the house where he held the child hostage. How the child freed herself was unknown; the kid said she couldn't remember everything. Afterwards, the John Doe simply slipped into the tub. How the radio got in the bathtub, and that the neighbors never saw anything suspicious remained a mystery. The man was never positively identified, and no one stepped forward to claim the body. John Doe #08-2216 laid in the county morgue for the maximum five days then unceremoniously buried in a remote cemetery out in, what folks called, 'the boonies'. The only persons present were a priest, the coroner, and the two cops who found the body.
"So that's that, Claude Frollo," Fern finally said. "I imagine you've told Nisha everything concerning how Marcel kidnapped her much younger self..."
Frollo nodded grimly, replying, "Before I departed for my own time, she told me she actually felt Marcel's hands on her -- Nisha the child that is -- shaking her, ripping the clothes from her tiny body, nearly ravishing her in the cruelest of fashions...Much like Charles Woodbridge, and I was there to prevent tragedy from befalling..."
Fern walked up the Minister of Justice, put her hand on his shoulder and said, "It's over, Claude...Just think happy thoughts and everything will be all right. Besides," she added with a smile, "your little wonder is performing this afternoon. You'll be able to stand up and say: 'That's my little girl!'." Claude Frollo raised his hand to his mouth, and in doing so unsuccessfully stifled a hearty laugh. His laughter pealed throughout the chamber and he paid no heed to the dull throb from his right side. In fact, the more he laughed, the more the pain seemed to subside.
At last he said to his post-modern spy and friend, "My dear Fern, I do trust your vehicle is all prepared." Claude Frollo donned the heavy black woolen cloak and a plain black chaperon complete with trailing purple silk veil. Fern commented that the entire outfit is, "guaranteed to draw strange looks." But Frollo didn't seem to mind; besides, he rather liked this new "post-industrial-meets-medieval" look.
After staring at his reflection in the mirror for several long moments, he managed to tear himself away, telling Fern, "Well, let us be on our way, for I am more than anxious to see my daughter's performance. For the rest of the day, I want us -- Danisha, Nadine, and myself -- to enjoy this holiday soirée as a family."
The Artsgarden literally glowed with the Christmas Spirit with the never-ending stream of holiday shoppers rushing to and from the mall. Crystal lights twinkled against the frosted, snow laced glass; the interior of the glass-domed structure literally sparkled and crackled with energy. I had the challenging task of organizing members of Nadine's class as soon as they arrived with their families. All I had to do was greet each child then give him or her a name tag. Of course once the little ones were all assembled I had to escort them to the far end of the Artsgarden then line them up according to size. My daughter was included in this rather rambunctious bunch of twenty-five kindergarten and first graders. I was so grateful that so many of my family and friends has come along not only for the performance, but to help me out with pre-show preparations.
Although I felt great initially, I was still, in reality, emotionally and physically weak from the previous two weeks' adventures through time. It was that constant 'looking over our shoulders', the last minute mad dash through time portals, not to mention that the transtemporal manhunt itself had taken its toll on me. Either directly or indirectly, Marcel Rougelot caused me to suffer the worst possible of calamities. I had been sold into slavery, beaten, drugged, held hostage, nearly raped (twice!), and almost got myself and Claude killed -- courtesy of one Marcel Rougelot. Never will I forget Claude's recount of how he and his companions finally nailed down Marcel's whereabouts, ultimately leading to a final showdown between the two men. What could have been a fight to the death was actually a turning of the tables on Marcel. He was the so called 'master of the game' but he never counted on Judge Claude Frollo having the last word. The medieval magistrate simply pushed the fugitive into a tub of water then coolly tossed in a souped up radio. Marcel had vowed that he would never hang for murder; Claude made sure the man got his wish. ...Electrocuted...in a bathtub...in 1968 and not 1494...Marcel Rougelot ended up buried as a John Doe in an unmarked grave, more than five hundred years beyond his time...
Pushing those thoughts from my mind, and taking a much needed break from the kids, I wandered over to the bench where Claude and I usually sit. Thank goodness no one was there, so I simply sat down and watched the heavy holiday traffic crawl underneath the Artsgarden's massive shell. I soon felt a tap on my shoulder -- Claude Frollo!
"My love, I am so sorry to disturb your quiet time, but I simply had
to talk to you -- alone..."
"Oh Claude," I warmly greeted with a kiss, "I'm so glad you finally made it down here, but aren't you still in pain? Honey, I'll understand if you have to leave right away..."
He placed a long slender finger on my lips, smiled, and said in the sweetest voice, "Danisha, I promised that I'd be here...My daughter's performance is important, and I have missed too many of these occasions...No more!" Indeed, Claude had missed so many opportunities: Nadine's first steps, her second birthday, countless field trips and parents' days at school. He had made a solemn promise to me, days before we embarked on this manhunt through time, that he would never again miss those red-letter events. "It is not right for a father to miss out on his child's welfare and happiness,", he once said to me. But with the pressure mounting to apprehend Marcel Rougelot, dear Claude simply had no time to spare.
Swiftly changing the subject, I beckoned Claude to sit next to me. I casually pointed out where old landmarks used to be, using the 1905 photograph before me as reference. Then I off-handedly inquired about the conspiracy. "Claude, I know you probably don't want to talk about this, but Fern told me so much. Is it all true? Those guys were Jean-Michel's former henchmen?"
Claude Frollo put his arm around me, held me close, then proceeded to explain, at last, that conspiracy to get rid of me, Nadine, and Colette. It seems that there were a few people who managed to slip away from Claude's grasp. Jean-Michel duChamps, the man who those many years ago assaulted Adele Trigere, fathered Malus, then hatched a diabolical scheme to overthrow Claude Frollo as Minister of Justice, had another daughter and son stashed away somewhere near Nantes. These people had known Marcel Rougelot, and they had also known Vincent and Isabelle LaCroix. This I couldn't believe! After all these years, these two had been plotting revenge against Claude Frollo, and they intended to harm him in the worst possible ways: Kill me and my daughter.
"But Claude, how did Colette figure into this? I don't understand...Colette and I have no connection..."
He interrupted, "Think, Danisha, how is Colette related to Isabelle LaCroix?"
Now how did I let that slip pass me? "Oh, Claude, forgive me if I've forgotten...Colette is Vincent's sister...the other sister, Blanche, is Hubert d'Arcy's wife...Oh no! These guys planned on wiping out both families!"
"From Marcel's written confessions, Nisha, that was the ultimate plot," said Claude somewhat bitterly. "Paulette and Maurice duChamps are now in custody awaiting execution. Jehan...Danisha, my love, they used Jehan's naiveté in the most diabolical..."
Claude Frollo then went on to explain how the plot was actually unrequited repercussions from that conspiracy to overthrow Claude as Minister of Justice so many years ago. From Claude's recount, Marcel Rougelot and the duChamps offspring crossed paths in Nantes; Paulette had witnessed Marcel murder Pierre duLac, that poor street musician. She immediately reported to her brother, who in turn, had already befriended Vincent LaCroix and his sisters. Of course, Paulette and Maurice had covered their tracks, even changed their last names from duChamps to duSang. ("It means 'of the blood'. It seemed an apt replacement," commented Claude.) Anyway, once those two gained the confidence of all parties involved, they only had to wait for further instructions from someone else. "And who was this mysterious person, Claude?," I asked.
His Grace replied with an odd mixture of surprise and disgust, "My darling, you will not believe this, but Clopin..."
"WHAT?!," I exclaimed, then quieting my voice so no one would overhear, "I thought you executed him...I mean, you personally oversaw that...Even Fern saw this, and reported it all to me in detail..."
At that point Claude Frollo recounted how a certain Gypsy King had another person to take his place when Claude's men finally 'captured' him. This man, who was extremely loyal to Clopin, laid down his life for his king: Even Claude Frollo had to admire the man for courageously facing a drawn-out, excruciatingly painful death. "This man's identity is still a mystery; Clopin remained -- well, still remains in hiding to this day..."
An extremely agitated Claude then went to explain how Maurice duChamps/duSang came into contact with Clopin. Jean-Michel's son still seethed that his father's plot to destroy Claude Frollo failed miserably. It was clear to Maurice that Jean-Michel's recruitment of his illegitimate brother Malus was a mistake from the start. Moreover, according to Maurice, his father's involvement with the Gypsies was risky in the extreme. "Why couldn't have Father just killed Frollo, then take over? No! He had to resort to elaborate scheming...," was what he told his sister. However, Maurice and Paulette's 'simple plan' to get back at Claude Frollo soon developed into an elaborate scheme that involved not only Marcel, but the Minister of Justice's own brother.
When Colette came to Paris, with Marcel in tow, the duChamps (duSangs) had already mapped out their plan: kill Judge Frollo's lady. It was obvious, according to Paulette, that to make Frollo suffer the worst possible grief was to get rid of the woman named 'Danisha'.
"But Claude, if I was the original target, how did the plot spill over
to include our child, then Colette and Isabelle...?"
Claude Frollo went on to explain that since the duSangs knew that I and the d'Arcys were acquaintances, then what better way to gain access through me than Colette. And since Colette was en route to Paris to visit Blanche, and that Marcel had agreed to accompany Colette as her attendant...
"My love, what a boon for them...It was hoped that Colette would, in time, introduce Paulette and Maurice to Hubert, and that, by chance, happen upon you..."
Of course, with Clopin back in the picture, Claude knew he had to apprehend
Marcel Rougelot with all deliberate speed. The whole plan began unraveling
the minute Marcel bludgeoned his first Parisian victims to death. Marcel's
confessions revealed that Colette became suspicious when Marcel couldn't
account for his whereabouts the night after yet another body was discovered
not far from the former Court of Miracles. "And that, dear Nisha,
spelled the end for Colette. You see, she had her suspicions after Marcel
had been away for several days. The man never bothered to inform his mistress
as to why the prolonged absences. She and Isabelle kept a regular correspondence,
Claude took a deep breath then continued, "Guillaume Sarrisin had this gut feeling ever since Marcel came to Nantes. He was certain that Marcel killed that musician yet it was when he witnessed Marcel and Maurice chatting after Mass..."
"My goodness, Claude, are you saying that...?"
I heard it all in a matter of minutes and it was still the most incredible
story I'd ever heard. Once again, one man's crazed vengeance had escalated
in tragedy for so many people. I listened as Claude recounted how the duSangs
paid Marcel to kill Colette only after they discovered that she intended
to turn Marcel over to Claude Frollo. Those few letters exchanged between
Colette and Isabelle, and their contents, were all the evidence needed
to arrest and convict 'le Chameleon'. However, things became extremely
complicated as Maurice and Paulette's plot was on the verge of collapsing;
so they convinced Marcel to kill Colette Bouchard -- "Can't have her blab
everything to Frollo! And you want Frollo to get his comeuppance, don't
you?," said Maurice to Marcel.
Then the plot became even more complicated once Jehan Frollo became involved; it was thought by Paulette that Jehan would be the perfect 'patsy', so to speak. They knew of Jehan's weaknesses -- women, money, wine, gambling -- and used those flaws to their advantage. They had Marcel befriend the Minister of Justice's brother long enough to get an inside track on Frollo's New World lady.
"However, Nisha, there was the one crucial factor that they never discovered: the time traveler. When Jehan dropped that thing -- and it was accidental for Jehan informed me as such -- well, Marcel simply had to find out for himself. And since neither of the duChamps would believe his newly acquired toy..."
Now it all fell into place for me. When Marcel Rougelot swiped Jehan's transtemporal device then took a joyride through America's past, many lives had been spared. Of course, once Marcel had achieved his end of the bargain, the duChamps fully intended to kill him -- Can't have witnesses about.
"But, Claude, what about Clopin? Aren't you going after him? And how
did he get involved in all this? You never explained..."
His lips lightly touched mine, then he said, "My love, may I suggest you re-read Julian's final reports. He is debriefing Clopin at this moment, and I can assure you that some very interesting revelations...."
Julian and Clopin's debriefing session...An ill-timed "Plan B"
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