Julian McNaney leaned against the tunnel's entrance and studied the burnt out ruins of what was the original Court of Miracles, that remote, mysterious home of Paris' Gypsies. The current Court of Miracles was located somewhere on the outskirts of the city, in an old monastery hidden by dark woods. Claude Frollo never found this new Gypsy hideout but remained resolute that the Court of Miracles shall be his at last. However, with the pressure mounting to apprehend a serial killer, and the fact that he had to weather many a storm ever since he learned that the man -- Clopin -- executed for conspiracy was a mere impostor, the good judge simply let the Court of Miracles fall along the wayside.
Clopin, that effervescent Gypsy King, was indeed alive and well; he fled Paris shortly after Jules de Chateaupers set the Court of Miracles ablaze. He had spread the word that he had died in that inferno, thus buying himself time so he could figure out another way to rid France of one Judge Frollo. "Only," Julian muttered to himself as he lit another cigarette, "the whole conspiracy thing never ended. His Grace was right: there were too many old wounds..."
Julian took a nice long drag while his attention was drawn to the approaching figure. The man walked with a slight limp; he was of medium height and very spare. The clothes were rather colorful if a tad threadbare; the battered wide-brimmed hat with its scraggly feather seemed to match the impish mood of the man. As the man drew closer, Julian could at last make out the face -- long, thin, sardonic, dusky of color, capped with black chin whiskers. He wore long black gloves which concealed fire-ravaged hands and arms. After all these years, this man had eluded Frollo's pursuit, only to take up with another man who wanted nothing more than see Frollo dead. That was a mistake, thought Clopin, for Jean-Michel duChamps had planned to sell out the Gypsies once Frollo had met his end and duChamps became the new Minister of Justice. Where was Clopin after all this time? What circumstances led him back to Paris? Why did he seem to join forces with Maurice and Paulette duChamps?
"Julian? Ah, I knew it was you the moment I saw that fiery glow of your
'cigarette'," addressed the Gypsy King. "I trust you weren't followed."
The 21st Century spy grinned then replied, "Now, Clopin, you should know by now that I always cover my tracks. But say..."
Julian McNaney paused, then proceeded to recap all that had happened within the past few days. However, Julian was wise not to reveal the time travel nor any particulars surrounding Claude Frollo's flight through America's past. All he told Clopin was, "Marcel is dead; Frollo killed him. I can't explain all due the delicate nature of this case, but I want to thank you for all your help, especially in setting up the duChamps. When you told me of their plot to kill Danisha, Colette, then Nadine..."
The Gypsy King interrupted. "But, Julian, I had no idea their plot involved murder, on the contrary. When those two found me in Nantes, I thought they only wanted to get rid of Frollo. Then they had to pay that madman and involve him in the scheme. Including Marcel Rougelot was a mistake from the beginning. I never wanted to see Danisha dead...She's a rather interesting woman. Julian, during my sojourn in Nantes, I had the pleasure of meeting Guillaume Sarrisin and his daughter. When at first glance, I was completely astounded how much Isabelle favored Danisha. I was also aware of Marcel's supposed infatuation with her."
Clopin then went on to recount to Julian how Guillaume had befriended
the Gypsy King and the many times the transplanted African showed him a
"Isabelle and Guillaume kept me abreast of Marcel's dirty deeds. Both had this sort of gut feeling that Marcel was responsible for the death of Pierre duLac, as well as the numerous other murders in Nantes. But the real story came after Isabelle married Vincent LaCroix. You see, Maurice duChamps -- he went by 'duSang' -- had befriended LaCroix years earlier. Of course, that meant that Maurice was privy to the LaCroix family business. When those first letters arrived from Paris, from Blanche d'Arcy, Colette naturally shared all this information concerning "Minister Frollo's New World friends". Maurice happened to learn this when Colette made an offhand remark about Madame Fern and Mlle Danisha...Then of course Maurice had already known of Mlle Danisha only because his father had written to him. Yes, Jean-Michel, on the very morning he had encountered Danisha, wrote to his son and described this woman to the fullest. Naturally, when Maurice took one look at Isabelle... "
Clopin and Julian then recapped the Gypsy King's return to Paris which
came right on the heels of Colette Bouchard's arrival. "I had no idea,
Julian, that Marcel would be in her company...Why, Maurice and Paulette
duChamps arrived just days after Colette!"
Clopin stroked his beard then smiled when he remembered the King's ultimatum to Frollo. "You know, Julian, the duChamps might had well left things alone, what with Frollo pressured to capture Marcel Rougelot...."
"But things got too complicated, Clopin," said Julian, "and that's when His Honor hired me to prove this conspiracy. With all I got on those guys, Frollo was damned glad Fern recommended me. And I'm glad you and I ran into each other, under that bridge, the night Maurice and Paulette cornered Marcel..."
Julian taking another drag, continued. "And you agreed to play along with the duChamps and get the goods on their plan to kill Danisha and Colette. His Grace was plenty shocked to learn that YOU were still very much alive -- and cooperating with my investigations. Say, you never told me all about the guy who died in your place."
Clopin went on to explain how Lazlo, a fellow Roma from the Balkans, had arrived in Paris those many years ago, only weeks before Jean-Michel's plot was put in motion. Lazlo was fiercely loyal to Clopin and agreed to die in his king's place. "He was well aware of the obstacles we faced all over Europe, so he agreed to die for me so I could recover from my injuries."
Julian acknowledged this then said to Clopin, "I know it's tough, but hang in there. The only reason Frollo stayed off your butts was because of Rougelot. He may not voice it outright but when I told him you were helping me out..."
The postmodern spy stifled a laugh then said, "Say, that reminds me...I know we had Plan B in case things didn't go our way..."
"Say no more, Julian." Clopin handed over something then told Julian,
"You may still need to use this...You see, there is one more person in
this conspiracy ring still at large. That would be Robert Fouinon, a man
who Frollo recently discharged for incompetence. Fouinon had ties to Jean-Michel
but he got away before Frollo could issue warrants for the man's arrest."
Julian McNaney lit another cigarette, his dark eyes glowing in the dim light of the few torches aas he said, "Jehan Frollo fingered Fouinon as the guy who nearly killed him...Yeah, Fouinon sneaked into Jehan's cell and nearly knifed the poor guy to death. And Fouinon was working for the duChamps all along...They had hoped to convince the King to make him Minister of Justice. Jehan was just another loose end."
Julian took the item from Clopin but he hesitated; he hated involving any more people, or creating further intrigue. "Clopin, for what it's worth, I don't think we need this. I mean, the duChamps are behind bars, Marcel is dead and buried, and Fouinon is one big breath away from getting caught..."
"No, Julian! She is still in danger, as well as many others..."
By 'many others' Clopin meant that once the duChamps had succeeded in killing Danisha and Nadine, then the murderous rampage would have spread to the d'Arcys, namely Solange Marchand and her son, Jehan-Henri. "You see, Julian? This would've turned into a bloodbath...Now that Fouinon is still on the loose...Julian, I am only honoring a request..."
Claude Frollo's 21st Century spy sighed with exasperation and uncertainty then proceeded to listen intently to Clopin's precise instructions. "Now, Julian, you cannot leave anything to chance. One mistake may be deadly. Now, first, you will have to make sure..."
Of course, one man, a Robert Fouinon, had fled Paris only to be cornered by Julian and someone I'd never thought in a million years would help out someone like Judge Claude Frollo -- the Gypsy King Clopin. At least that's what Julian's message read -- a message sent via Fern who in turn passed it on to Claude. That was right before the program and Claude was so relieved that he could finally relax and enjoy his child's performance. Then there was that strange woman who approached Vixen, then us...
Right after the program, an elderly woman came to our little group and
complimented Nadine and her classmates on a splendid performance. Now I
never paid any attention to this woman, but Wendell Parsons was there and
immediately the pair embraced. Imagine our shock when he introduced her
to us. Imagine her curiosity when she looked into the eyes of people she
swore she met years ago. But for a woman of ninety-two winters, she excused
the confusion with the ravages of aging. Sunny Rathbord-Lingeman, a still
attractive widow all dolled up in a smashing Adolfo suit, chatted a breeze
whilst still trying to figure out where she may have met us. "Hmm," she
began in her soft aged voice, "Have you ever been to Chicago? My parents
had this mansion on the Gold Coast althought I live in Wilmette now...Perhaps
we met in passing but..."
Her eyes bored through me when she finally said, "Good-bye" and "Merry Christmas".
"My love," later declared Claude Frollo, "Sunny thought she was seeing
Eula Mae. I could feel her eyes burn through your very being -- You and
Eula favor each other that much -- Sunny still very much misses her dear
But what about Julian?
"Sunny Rathbord!," Vixen later said to Fern and me, "But I thought she
and Julian were an item..."
"So did I, Vixen, and so did Claude, but...this doesn't make sense...Hey, Fern, what do you know about Julian?"
Fern took us aside and explained how, "Julian and Sunny never married, at least that's how the official record reads. Julian supposedly got shipped out to Manila during the war and he never came back. So after the war, Sunny marries this bigshot attorney named John Lingeman."
Fern went on to tell me that Julian was still pretty much a man of mystery. "Heck, I don't know much about the guy. All I know is that he was one of Jacki's first time travel partners back when she started searching her family tree. I have no other knowledge about him. All I know is that Claude Frollo was mighty grateful when I suggested that Julian could very well bust the case wide open."
Indeed Claude was extremely grateful to Julian for finally nailing those conspirators. However, and all due to ill-timed communications, the intrepid Mr. McNaney would wish he had left well enough alone, as the crackerjack spy still had "Plan B" to implement. Just who else was involved with this "Plan B" remained a mystery for so many weeks. Afterwards, Claude Frollo wouldn't be too pleased with his latest and most useful spy's tactics; in fact, Claude nearly wrote off Julian McNaney as "persona non grata". And we all know what THAT means...
It was getting close to midnight. I was sprawled on the bed, not even
paying particular attention to the book I was reading, and it took great
fortitude on my part not to pass out. I couldn't explain it but ever since
Christmas day dinner I had this 'swimmy-headed' feeling -- I had a hard
time steadying myself. I had not one drop of wine or other spirits since
1937 Chicago so Momma and Claude chalked it all up to too much activity
and far too much stress. I had hoped that feeling of weakness and debility
would lighted up with some relaxation; I canceled all outside plans (yes,
even Francine's party), preferring to stay at home with Nadine.
But my condition grew worse as the week wore on; getting out of bed every morning was sheer torture. I told myself it all had to be some delayed reaction to all that had happened those many days ago. Maybe the near brushes with certain death had finally sapped my strength, but when I started seeing things...
It happened just as Claude Frollo handed me a glass of soda pop -- ginger
ale this time as for some inexplicable reason I'd lost my taste for Seven-Up.
He snuggled next to me and said between sips of champagne, "Nisha, my dear,
Nadine is such a delight and I'm so pleased to be able to spend these holidays
with you however..."
He then voiced his concerns over my health, and voiced another concern: His tenure as Minister of Justice. "I've given the matter very serious thought, Danisha. Although His Majesty is willing to keep me on, I simply must face reality. I'm no longer a young man, and this mad chase through time has proven that I can no longer withstand the physical demands..."
I knew he referred to that confrontation with Charles Woodbridge, the injuries he sustained when Marcel fled with my much younger self, and the usual wear and tear from the constant worry and second guessing. "And that dear Nisha is why I am retiring at the end of this year. Now before you say anything, please hear me out, and this time, I will not take "No" for an answer."
Huh? Retiring? What...?! And what did he mean by 'won't take No'? What gives?
Then Claude Frollo repeated those very words I heard those many years ago when we first met. I would hear them again after I rescued him and suffered with him through the fallout of Jean-Michel's crazy scheme. Now, after all we've been through the past two weeks, how could I refuse? Just then, I started seeing things then felt the strangest of feelings...
"Danisha, didn't you hear me? I'm asking you to be my wife. Darling, don't tell me "No" this time! We can be married in that lovely cathedral Downtown, right after New Year's Day..."
But I tuned him out as I heard and saw two figures approaching me. I
couldn't believe this! Del and Aunt Eula! Eula Mae, still
young, still her vivacious self, addressed me sternly yet lovingly.
"You had better marry that man, Danisha!", Aunt Eula said in an ethereal voice. "Nadine needs a full time father. If Murray had lived, Alvin might still be here. But honey, this man is handing you a lifetime of happiness on a silver platter and you're ready to throw it away -- Again!"
I blinked and said nothing as Del Davis, the young handsome preacher who was so coldly gunned down by my ex-boyfriend, addressed me. "Nisha, listen to your Aunt Eula...Marry the good judge and be happy. You deserve it. Oh yes, you and Claude can boast of having the ultimate May-December marriage." Then the two apparitions disappeared from my sight.
After some hard thought I laughed long and hard then heard my own voice
say, "Yes, Claude Frollo, yes!" We held each other; we cried. We exchanged
countless kisses. When I offered to call my folks, Claude suggested otherwise.
"No my love, I believe someone else should hear this first..."
"But Claude, we can't wake that baby...You just got her settled in and all."
Claude Frollo kissed my lips again, saying, "Darling, I only want Nadine to celebrate with us -- Ring in the New Year, and a new life..."
...Happy New Year, Claude Frollo...
....What's so "happy" about it?
The final Installment...shocks and surprises....
GO TO THE CONCLUSION OF "ON THE EDGE OF TIME"
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