For a moment, Jehan Frollo pondered several things, such as the packet still in Phillipe Ouimet's possession. Then there was the delicate matter of telling Evrard the truth about Dottie -- and not telling Claude about a recent episode in Nisha's cellar. No, I can't tell him...He's angry with me enough as it is. No, I'll forego this meeting and head for the Palais...Phillipe will simply have to confront Claude and Evrard...
"Gentlemen," he finally said, "I'm going to the Palais; I have to retrieve
a few items then I'm heading back to Nisha's home. If Claude should ask..."
Quasi, nodding reassuredly, said, "We know, Jehan."
Oh, what to do?
Phillipe Ouimet agonized over both his friend and his brother. Evrard
would be heartbroken; that's a given. But what about Claude Frollo? Phillipe
always admired the former city magistrate for his forthrightness, tenacity,
iron will, and quiet elegance. Judge Ouimet sat, brooding more, then he
decided that Claude and Evrard must be told the truth -- Today! "The cost
may be high," he reasoned, "but someone or something must be lost along
the way. I can't imagine what she will feel once she regains her memory."
At that moment, a soldier and a spy appeared at the chamber door. Both had pertinent news; the latter not encouraging in the least. "Sir," began the non-descript looking soldier, "we've located Mlle. Ducharme. She was last seen entering Mlle. Wood's home. By our reports she has remained there all night, even though Jehan Frollo left the house an hour ago."
Phillipe nodded then said, "And to where did young Frollo go?"
The soldier replied, "To his brother's home, sir."
Judge Ouimet nodded, saying, "At least she is safe there. Keep a close watch on the place as Elmore has yet to show."
He then turned to his spy, a plain looking man with limp light hair
and lambent eyes. "What is your report, Charles?"
"Sir, the gypsies have returned to Paris. The 'king' Clopin had been seen not far from the docks by Notre Dame. Mander, the gypsy accompanying him, sent word ahead that Clopin wants to exact revenge on Elmore..."
Phillipe, now fully alarmed, said, "That means Elmore may be here as well. I wouldn't doubt he's heading straight for Mlle Wood's home...Lieutenant!" The soldier snapped to attention as Phillipe addressed him, "Find Capt. LeJeune. I want every available man stationed with a one mile radius of Mlle Wood's home. If any of you see Elmore, arrest the man on the spot!"
Both men received final instructions as a servant waited in the doorway. Phillipe glanced at the young man who carried what looked like a note. He addressed the servant, "Gaston, what have you?"
"A note from Minister Frollo...I mean, Monsieur Frollo, my lord. He said to give this to you." Gaston, handing the note to Minister Ouimet, stood by as Phillipe read. His Grace shook his head then said to his servant, "When did Frollo leave?"
"Just a few moments ago, sir"
Phillipe frowned, but surely Claude wouldn't have slipped away without... "And did he take his daughter?"
"No, sir. young Mlle Frollo is to be collected by Madame Flambert later this morning."
The Minister of Justice was silent for a few moments, then turned to
his soldier and said, "Lieutenant, carry out your orders. Inform Captain
LeJeune that Elmore and Clopin are to be arrested on sight." The soldier
clicked to attention with a crisp, "Yes, sir!", then immediately departed.
As for the spy, Phillipe Ouimet informed him to, "Gather all available
agents...I have a feeling we may have some turncoats in our midst...Keep
tabs on any suspicious characters or activities."
Then to his servant, Phillipe, with packet still in hand, said, "Gaston, have my carriage readied. If anyone should ask for me, inform them that I'm visiting my brother..."
She decided, in the pre-dawn hours, to explore this house. Something about it tugged at her psyche. Dottie held deep suspicions that she had been to this city, this time period, long before she found Johnny's Timescape. She came to the conclusion that Johnny wanted her to get hold of that device. Perhaps Johnny planned to suck me into this murder everyone says he committed. Everyone, from Phillipe to Vincent to Jehan, talked about Claude Frollo's lady getting bumped off by Johnny. And it was all for love -- Yeah, Johnny Elmore was in love with this Nisha person ever since...
Dorothy shook her head again as she crept out of that dark musty cellar and into the grand room that served as dining hall. She lit a few candles then began to explore this house. For once, Dottie thought, I want to put those suspicions at rest. If I've been here before, then this house should hold clues. She instantly recognized several items: a silver bowl which still contained sugar-and-spice pecans; a child's drawing of a Parisian street scene (Dot noted the name 'Nadine' scrawled across the bottom); a pretty rag doll. "He gave this to her last year," Dorothy said aloud although she couldn't offer any explanation why she said that. She couldn't explain why she recognized the other items.
With candle in hand Dottie ventured upstairs. Her heart pounded hard and fast; she had no idea what she might find. But isn't it obvious? I must have been here before, and Jehan Frollo regarded me as an old friend. No wonder I was so drawn to him...but I can't face Evrard, or Phillipe, and definitely not Claude Frollo.
When John Elmore showed up on Dottie's front door two days after New Year's, he told her some sob story about being her long lost cousin. Now Dorothy, being an only child, secretly jumped for joy when she learned that at last she had family. But she regarded Johnny with a characteristic wariness. Dottie always searched for the good in people but something about John Elmore didn't set too well. He seemed charming enough on the surface but Dottie detected a deep secrecy within the man; he never fully explained how he found her. Heck, he wouldn't tell me anything other than I had some folks waiting to see me...
She grimaced as she entered the second floor master bedchamber. It was
an elegantly furnished room -- a delightful mixture of early French Renaissance
and 1930's Americana. The double bed dominated the opposite end while the
other end was fashioned into a sort of sitting room. Dorothy surveyed the
massive cherry wardrobe, the dresser adorned with many pictures, hand crocheted
doilies, and silver plated hair ornaments. One picture in particular commanded
Dottie's attention; she nearly reeled when her eyes lit upon it. The photographic
image was that of a woman who looked very much like Dottie and a man who
favored Jehan somewhat. But this man is older, more regal in appearance
and manner. The smiling couple had all the marks of being deeply in love.
She carefully studied the photo, shaking her head in disbelief as she turned
it over. On the backside were these handwritten words: "Claude and Me,
taken by Fern, July 1481."
Dorothy's mind did flip flops, trying desperately to sweep away the cobwebs that obscured the memories buried deep within. "This man is Claude Frollo, and he was set to marry this woman. She looks like me, carries herself like me. She is...Oh God, Johnny killed this woman! No wonder Jehan Frollo tried to protect me! No wonder Vincent LaCroix looked at me so strangely," Dottie said aloud.
"Claude Frollo is looking for me; he's looking for Johnny. And Phillipe Ouimet is looking for us, too. That's why he didn't like me right away; he knows I have to be Johnny's accomplice. But I didn't do anything wrong! All I did was take an accidental time trip..."
Just then, Dottie Ducharme picked up that device, the transtemporal device that, to her thinking, started all this mess. She flipped it open, trying to figure out how to send a message, or to return to her time, to Detroit. "I have to get out of here. I have to!" After indiscriminately pressing buttons and sending up countless prayers, Dottie was shocked when the device beeped madly. Several messages scrolled across the screen:
We know everything, and we will not rest until all of Paris learns that you are very much alive. Stay there; we on our way.
Everything will be all right. We love you and want you to come home. All of us are gathered at Claude's place. He will need much support and love once he learns the truth. I'm sorry about John Elmore. I had no idea the man was capable of something so despicable; he caused needless pain and grief for so many. Stay where you are; you'll be much safer. If you're worried about Nadine, don't. She is visiting Orry Ouimet this morning. We have yet to tell her that Mommy is still alive. Take care.
And Message #3 read:
YOU ARE NOT DOROTHY DUCHARME! Your name is Danisha Wood and I've
been trying to kindle your memory. Elmore had you believing that you are
Dottie. She doesn't exist, Danisha, except in your imagination. Let Dottie
go and let Nisha out! I talked to Phillipe. He understands now and says
you were never wanted for murder. Claude has yet to learn the truth. Let
the others tell him. I'm on my way back. Phillipe is to tell Evrard the
truth, and I hope for everyone's sake that this long nightmare won't have
too many repercussions. I love you, Nisha -- as a friend should love a
friend. Please stay there and out of harm's way.
"What does he mean I'm not Dorothy?! Of course I'm Dottie Ducharme! I'm...I'm..."
The impact of those words sent Dottie into a tailspin. Literally reeling, she let out a bloodcurdling scream, dropped the Timescape, then collapsed on the bed in a heap.
"Claude," interrupted Joe Wood in his own deep rumbling voice, "I almost
passed up your invitation, however, things have taken a dramatic turn.
I'm still in a state of disbelief with what all Jacki and Fern said about..."
Professor Wood stopped himself, noted Claude Frollo's sudden change of expression, and admitted, "Oh my friend, you really don't know everything, do you? I mean, when I returned from the cemetery, and Cherie said that Jehan had been at the house helping Gerry go through Nisha's belongings..."
Now Claude Frollo became quite apprehensive; he knew Jehan had been
playing detective, but just how much did the wayward brother uncover? Looking
Professor Wood squarely in the eyes, Claude bluntly asked, "What happened
at the cemetery? Surely Nisha's...ah...'post-mortem' was performed as scheduled.
And exactly why was my brother there?"
Noting the endless questions to follow, Fern stepped forward and handed Claude the letter from Julian; then she gave him the manila folder. "That, Claude, is the toxicologist's report," she told him. Then Jacki Terrell spoke up. "There is so much to tell you, Claude. I don't know where to begin..."
Frollo, holding the unread report, sat in his favorite chair by the hearth, then said, "My dear friends, whatever you have to say to me, then out with it! Start from the beginning; it will be easier." Then with a slight grin, he added, "If you are worried about shocking me, don't. For I have seen and heard enough not to shock so easily."
With a deep breath and heavy heart, Fern Grigsby then laid out the results of the investigation: the botched Plan B, the "formula", the plan to frame Clopin. Then Jacki related the tale of the stolen Timescape program, the many unauthorized time trips, the cover-up of which Ronita partially unmasked. Then it was Joe's turn -- a task the anguished father hated to do. He dreaded the reaction, and he noted Claude's already shocked and bewildered expression. The good professor thought Claude Frollo was holding up rather well considering the bombshell after earth-shattering bombshell.
"My dear Joseph," Frollo said at last, "what have you to say? Is it all true? Is Danisha indeed...?"
Professor Wood nodded sadly saying, "Yes, sir. It's all true. When I
accompanied the folks from the medical examiner's office, I had no idea
what to expect. Naturally I would have forbidden such a thing. My daughter
was about to be dug up only a month after we buried her. But when they
opened the casket...Oh, Claude, you can't imagine the anguish I felt when
I saw that the body..."
Claude's eyes grew bright with tears; he rejoined, "...The bodies were switched. What was in the coffin was nothing more than a lifelike mannequin. How did Elmore manage to do such a thing? Then again, where is the REAL Danisha?"
Then it was Iggy and Quasimodo's turn to speak. The bell ringer produced
the signed confession of Julian's mysterious contact. "Julian got him to
sign and date this confession," said Quasi, "right before the man took
off to South Fork." The bell ringer handed the signed statement to Frollo,
who in turn scanned the page immediately. Meanwhile Iggy McMullen, the
middle-aged flower child, said to Frollo, "Your Honor, that dude was Elmore's
accomplice in switching the bodies...Er...Say, you don't know the truth
about Dottie Ducharme."
Iggy cast his eyes about the room asking, "Should we drop the Big One?"
Professor Wood and Fern nodded silently; then Iggy took a deep breath, brushed back his hair, and said, "Claude, we really wanted to wait but...No time like the present, though."
He blew out his cheeks again and admitted, "Dorothy Ducharme is a made-up character from Nisha's grade school stories. That's why Jehan went to the 21st -- for answers. He suspected something was up when he first met Dottie. He tried to tell you the truth..."
Frollo now felt his eyes damp with tears, his head spinning. He began to feel a twinge of guilt over Jehan. His brother, diligently played detective just to reunite two special people. All Jehan wanted was to set things right, but Claude brushed off Jehan like yesterday's refuse. Claude felt sobs swelling within but he successfully fought back an outright crying jag. Tell me this is an awful nightmare...
"Claude," said Vixen gently, "we met with Jehan just before he returned to this time period. He showed us the notebook John Elmore kept, and those stories Nisha wrote. Dorothy Ducharme is Danisha. She's alive, Claude, and hiding from you and Judge Ouimet. She still thinks she's Dottie and that she's wanted for murder. Jehan's been trying to snap her memory back but he said everything he's tried hasn't worked."
Saying nothing in return, Frollo rose from his chair and stood before the fireplace. He stared into the flames and, in his mind's eye, he could see her. Large deep brown, tear-swollen eyes stared right into his; he heard the familiar loving voice. "Claude, help me. Help Jehan. We are in danger. Johnny Elmore is closing in. Please believe your friends when they tell you. I'm alive, Claude. I'm alive and waiting for you."
When the former Minister of Justice finally turned to face his friends,
he said in a slightly quavering voice, "Fern, I want you to find Judge
Ouimet. He is to bring his best soldiers to Danisha's home. Phoebus, Daniel,
Quasimodo are to accompany me to the house. Antoine and Jacqueline, I want
you to go to Evrard Ouimet's home; stay with my daughter until I return.
Do not alarm her in any way. We must tell Nadine the truth but it must
be done delicately and only after Elmore is safely in custody."
Frollo's voice still quavered some but did not crack. He continued to give instruction when a servant announced Judge Ouimet's arrival. "Phillipe," Frollo said as Ouimet entered the room. The good judge carried that packet; he strode up to Claude and said, "My friend, I need to see you in private, that is if your New World associates do not mind...Umm...I suppose you now know the truth about Mlle. Ducharme?"
Claude Frollo nodded, then excused himself from his company, saying to Fern, "I trust you completely." Fern acknowledged this, then told Frollo not to worry. "Things will work out, sir."
"...Locked away while we buried a lifelike mannequin...My God, Phillipe!
How could we have not known? Elmore planned everything down to the last
detail. He was determined to have Danisha to himself."
The retired judge could say no more and Phillipe Ouimet worried if Claude would collapse on the spot. He told Claude, "I have yet to tell Evrard the truth. He needs to know, my friend, although I dread his reaction..."
Frollo rejoined, "Which is why I want Jacqueline and Antoine there when Evrard is told. They can help buffer the blow..."
"Speaking of 'buffering the blow', Claude," said Phillipe as he handed over that packet, "These items were taken from your lady the day of burial."
Frollo accepted the envelope, ripped it open, and nearly fainted on
the spot when out spilled the contents. Tears finally fell from his eyes;
muffled sobs threatened to erupt from his throat.
"Do you recognize these things?," asked Phillipe.
In dumbstruck silence Claude nodded as he examined each piece: Nisha's sorority pin, Nadine's charm bracelet, and the wedding ring. Saying nothing, and feeling himself gradually losing control over his emotions, Claude Frollo clutched the precious items tightly in his hand, then sank to his knees and emitted long powerful sobs.
He couldn't help himself; his postmodern lady was alive and well. But Nisha still thought she was Dottie Ducharme and John Elmore had just arrived in Paris. Frollo had to find her and bring her home, and back to reality.
Phillipe Ouimet kneeled beside his longtime friend and colleague as Claude let out sobs of relief. He placed his hand on Frollo's shoulder, saying, "It's all too hard to believe, dear friend, but she is safe -- for now. My men are ready to capture Elmore the minute he shows his face..."
Oh, shuddered Phillipe as he continued to comfort his friend, to think that Evrard may react in the same manner. No, he may rage at me for keeping the truth from him...
...O Evrard, I never hated you, and this time I truly do not want to see you suffer...
HEAD FOR CHAPTER 18 (II)!
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