Chapter Two

"Picking Up the Pieces" 

The Time and Place: Outside the Palais de Justice, early morning, January 10, 1495.


"OK, Quasi! I got the rope...Slide her down easy...There!"
Phoebus, the ex-soldier turned caretaker, stood in the wagon and steadied that massive odd-looking instrument as Quasimodo securely tied down the protective cloth. "Do not allow that instrument to slip," warned Frollo earlier, "lest it is damaged beyond repair."  The bell ringer heeded his guardian's words and took extraordinary care not to allow the glossy black Steinway grand to roll from the wagon bed all during its perilous journey to the country. It was not an overly long trip yet Quasimodo and Phoebus knew perfectly well that if that piano was in any way damaged...
Thank goodness Daniel "Iggy" McMullen happened to take an impromptu time trip to late 15th Century France. Iggy remembered that piano and often took delight in needling Claude Frollo about, "housing such a thing in the Palais when the piano won't make an appearance for another three hundred years."
Indeed, Claude had thought of the strange looks and curious comments he endured ever since that wonderful Christmas back in 1482, when he made special arrangements to give his Danisha a holiday she'd never forget. And so many sweet, and funny, memories surrounded that piano as the three men traveled down memory lane.
When Iggy arrived at the Palais, it was Quasi who brought up so many wonderful memories. One in particular brightened an otherwise cold, dreary day. "Hey, Quas," Iggy began, "remember that time when I first came here and we had that hot tub party. Then Nisha walked in on us...?"
Phoebus couldn't resist joining the merriment. "Yeah, and I remember when you brought all that yummy New World food...Say, didn't Nisha bring something that following winter? I think it was when she was expecting Nadine. She came to Chateau d'Arcy and brought a strange concoction...Hmm...It was spicy and fiery." The former Captain snapped his fingers as he recalled, "Salsa! That was it! It was so good. I remember when Jehan Frollo scooped up this huge spoonful..."
"And," said Quasi laughingly, "Nisha told him not to take so much but when Jehan bit into it..."
Iggy, howling away while at last mooring the piano into place, said, "I think the boy suffered Five Alarm Burn!"
The entire square reverberated with the men's laughter as several passersby stopped and offered their fondest memories of Frollo's New World lady. There were so many stories shared, so much laughter erupting, so much grief alleviated a bit. Indeed, these good people still missed the unusual woman from a faraway land who had captured the heart and mind of one Claude Frollo.

Yet the merriment was short lived as the former Judge Frollo, severe in his total black ensemble, suddenly appeared at the base of the Palais steps. He seemed worn, dejected; his face was haggard and emotionless. As soon as he approached the men, he addressed them as such, "Is that instrument ready for travel?"
"Yes, master," replied Quasimodo.
"Then be quick yet ever so careful in transport. The piano is to go into the drawing room. Take care that..."
Frollo's voice trailed off as the figure from behind approached him. The man was in his middle fifties, dark gray-eyed, with light brown hair streaked with strands of gray. While not as spare as Claude Frollo, the man was of the same height. Unfortunately the fine black velvet robe with its bejeweled yoke and red epaulets, along with the familiar triangular hat with its red silk veil didn't carry the same visual impact. However, it was the awful sternness of the man's face that conveyed that air of power and authority. This was Phillipe Ouimet, the handpicked successor to the Ministry of Justice. Phillipe and Claude had known each other for years; Phillipe had the distinction for assisting in the arrest and conviction in those conspirators. It was also Phillipe who had retained Frollo's circle of spies, most notably Fern Grigsby, the New World woman. Phillipe never pressed Claude about Fern nor any of Frollo's 'New World' friends for that matter. As far as Phillipe was concerned, Madame Fern's tactics always yielded positive results; he expressed hope to employ Madame Fern several times as special agent.
Also, Phillipe was grateful that Claude Frollo stayed on to ease the transition, what with Frollo still seething over the awful results of that conspiracy ring. Marcel Rougelot, that serial killer, was dead. The duChamps -- Maurice and Paulette -- along with Robert Fouinon and several others suffered the worst possible tortures at the hands of Claude Frollo. It seemed, to Phillipe, that Claude Frollo took a special, and personal, delight in watching those villains suffer in agony from what Danisha called 'the works' -- the rack, the floggings, near pressings, stripped naked and suspended over hot coals, the branding...
And then there was the execution itself. Not in so many years that something so mundane had drawn so much attention. It was a spectacle unprecedented as citizens from all over Paris -- even people from far away places -- came to watch these hapless souls pay for their heinous crimes. By now, nearly everyone had heard the awful news of Mlle. Danisha's passing and they were rightfully outraged when the prisoners' sinister plot was finally revealed.

Tearing himself away from the memory, Phillipe turned his thoughts to the present. Striding up to Claude Frollo he said, "Sir, I would like to thank you for your timely assistance. However, as your friend, may I suggest a few days rest before my formal installation. My friend, you are still in shock; you need time to heal." Yes, thought, Claude, he did need time to rest and heal, to deal with his loss and get on with his life. At that moment someone entered his thoughts. Yes, Nadine...She is the one bright spot in my life, and an afternoon visit to the 21st Century just to be with her...
Claude Frollo and Phillipe continued to converse as Phoebus climbed into the driver's seat with Quasimodo and Iggy in back to steady the piano. Phillipe's inquiries about that "curious contraption" amused Frollo to no end, but as Claude mounted Snowball, the conversation again grew serious. "Phillipe, I am here at your disposal. I know it seems rather silly: the former Minister of Justice giving advice to the new..."
Phillipe Ouimet chuckled good naturedly then said. "Claude, it is not silly but vital. The transition must be as smooth as possible...Which reminds me, what of that Gypsy King, and that other spy in your employ, a M. McNaney? From Marcel Rougelot's writings I suspect some foul play in the matter of your lady's death."

The subject of Danisha's death, let alone any wild suspicions surrounding her sudden demise, never came up in conversation. Claude Frollo had expressly forbidden any talk of his beloved in his presence; he still had to deal with his personal grief. All Claude could say to Phillipe was, "I understand your suspicions; however, the official report implicitly states that Danisha died of heart failure. As for Julian McNaney, I haven't heard from the man since Marcel's death. I simply presume the man has secured another assignment..."
Phillipe interrupted, "But, Claude, from Marcel Rougelot's last writings -- and what was this talk of a M. Henry Clay? From what I've read, Rougelot had planned to poison the man. Which is why suspect your lady's death is..."
Claude Frollo, astride Snowball, shot fiery eyes at Phillipe Ouimet and angrily said, "No, Phillipe! I will reiterate: Danisha died of heart failure, pure and simple." Then, as an afterthought, Frollo raised his hand as if to stop Phillipe from replying; his voice softened as he said, "My friend, if you suspect foul play, then by all means you must find the Gypsy King Clopin. I never condoned his assistance with Julian's investigation, and I have this sneaking suspicion that Clopin discovered Julian's 'alternative plan', that is if Danisha's life was in any direct danger, however..."
"Rougelot led you on a wild goose chase before McNaney's plan could be put into effect," rejoined Phillipe, "and you have yet to explain all that to me. Ah well, the man is dead and so are his conspiring companions....Claude, for what it's worth, I still want to find Clopin. I can't get over this deep suspicion that the man knows something."
The two men fell silent; then, swiftly changing the subject, Phillipe asked Claude, "Have you spoken to your brother since...?"
Claude shot another hot look and said, "Jehan and I haven't spoken to each other since Danisha's death...As far as I'm concerned, Phillipe, it was Jehan's utter stupidity that triggered all this disaster. I was moments away from arresting Rougelot until..."
The retired judge sighed then said, "I blame Jehan that much, Phillipe. I've practically disowned him since." His eyes softened as he told Phillipe, "At least YOUR brother is the epitome of the well-bred gentleman -- wealthy, well educated and traveled, a fine father..."  Minister Ouimet smiled as said just before heading back to the Palais, "Evrard and I are different, Claude. He lives his life and I live mine. I love Evrard, heart and soul. I only wish..."
Claude smiled, "Your only wish is that Evrard remarry, find a suitable mother for Orry."  Frollo smiled even broader when he recalled to Phillipe, "your father bringing Evrard to Paris that first time -- I had been Minister of Justice less than five years -- Evrard was just a raw lad but bright and ambitious. He and I became fast friends when he attended the Universitie...He told me he still missed his mother..."
With that, Claude detected something in Phillipe's eye and decided to cut short the reminisce. After a brief silence, Claude and Phillipe said their good-byes, but not after Claude asked, "Where is Evrard? I thought he'd at least tear himself away from his travels and business, and come to Paris to see his brother installed as Minister of Justice."  Without smiling, Phillipe only replied, "As of our last correspondence, Evrard is currently en route to Paris as we speak. His maternal cousin and her husband are accompanying him. Oh Claude, I never told you this, but Evrard has bought yet another home -- a rambling place, near that lovely pond, not too far from your place. His cousin, Clarice Flambert, is a friend of Guillaume Sarrisin and Isabelle LaCroix."
Claude Frollo made no comment other than, "Well, perhaps I may call on Evrard someday..."

Much later that afternoon...just short of Claude's chateau...
"Hey, Claude," Iggy asked, "do you really think Nisha was murdered? Me and Fern talked about that -- you know, the death being so sudden and all..."
Frollo, riding alongside the wagon, suddenly stopped then said to the three men, "I want you to continue your journey." He dismounted Snowball and hitched the horse to the wagon. "Phoebus, take care of my horse...I'm going on a little time trip. Don't expect me back anytime soon." The other men said nothing as Claude Frollo concealed himself within a thicket and took out his transtemporal device. In an instance, the former Minister of Justice vanished in a sea of white light.

Flash forward...same date but in 2005...
He sauntered down the corridor, drawing strange looks from the few children who passed by. It's the clothes, he thought, that drew the attention; however, this was nothing new. He always wore his medieval dress whenever he visited his daughter's school; it both amused and fascinated the children. Claude Frollo paused just short of Nadine's classroom when a little voice spoke from behind, "Mr. Frollo! Hi!"
A girl whose size equaled the tiny sound of her voice, grinned broadly as she approached Claude. Her name was Jessica and, as any child, ran to Frollo and embraced the man. The visitor from the 15th Century returned the spontaneous courtesy then inquired about his daughter. Jessica replied, "Nadine's downstairs in the library with her grandmother and..."
At that moment, Nadine emerged from the door leading from the staircase. She spotted her father and immediately went to him. "Papa!", she called out as she flew into his arms. Even Geraldine Wood, Nisha's mother, was surprised to see Claude Frollo out and about so soon. "Claude, I thought you'd be home; this is quite a surprise..."
Frollo put down his daughter then embraced Gerry and told her, "I only wanted to visit with my daughter, perhaps take her on a little trip to my chateau for the evening."  He clutched Nadine's hand while she looked up at her father with the most loving eyes. He smiled at his little wonder then added, "My dear Geraldine, I trust that everyone is holding up as well..."
"Honey, don't fret so. We're all managing, and it's only been a week since we buried her. But I'm afraid the real sense of loss has already sunk in for Joe. He's so despondent these days..."
Nadine tugged at her father's cloak. "Papa, I have to go back to my room now. Can you come and tell us a story? Mrs. Seidel won't mind." Claude Frollo knelt down to his joy and gently said, "My dear, I'd like that very much, that is if is all right with your teacher..."
Another voice came from the side, "Mr. Frollo, what a nice surprise!". This was Mandy Abel, one of the many assistants in the building. She took Claude's extended hand and said, "Mr. Frollo, your visit couldn't come at a more appropriate time." She took Claude aside and told him that the children, "have been asking Nadine about her mother. I think they're confused and concerned. We have about a half hour before dismissal so I think a little talk from you might help clear the air."

That brief, yet enlightening conversation with the kids helped to ease Claude's mind and put his painful loss in perspective. What wonders and wisdom these little children wrought! Yet, once home, Geraldine shared some timely news that further planted the seeds of suspicion. In time, Claude Frollo and Phillipe Ouimet would learn the shocking truth. But at what price?

Johnny covers his tracks -- and Dorothy's...Claude Frollo's vibes triggers memories...Evrard...

Copyright©1999 by FrolloFreak®

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