Now it was getting late and time was of the essence. She and Imbert, nearly at the end of their bizarre plot to repay the man's gambling debts, would simply walk away from it all without blame. It's those Gypsies who'll pay and pay dearly, for Judge Ouimet decreed it; and Fabrisse, if all goes well this evening, would soon emerge as the "mystery eyewitness". After all, surmised the aging prostitute, she did see boatloads of Gypsies coming and going for the past several weeks. The Court of Miracles has to be on one of those islands across the river, and Judge Ouimet has yet to learn that...
'...or has he?," muttered Fabrisse under her breath.
She thought long and hard about the 5000 livres promised by Judge Philippe Ouimet in exchange for information concerning the Gypsy hideout's precise location. Oh, with money like that, Fabrisse could perhaps buy out the Marquecoin brothers and transform Le Papillion Doré to its former glory. Perhaps she could leave Paris altogether – yes, perhaps travel to the south, or...
"Even book passage to the New World. Jehan Frollo talks about it all the time...Sounds like paradise..."
"Madame? Beg pardon, madame."
A rough yet unassuming voice jolted Fabrisse from her deep reveries.
It was that customer, the one who sat there most of the night. He looked
like any other traveler passing through town, yet this man carried himself
with an air of secrecy. Perhaps this man in on the run from the law. Maybe
he's to meet a secret lover so they can run away together. Whatever the
man's business it was none of Fabrisse's.
She merely thanked him for his patronage as he paid for his refreshment. After a brief silence, he addressed Fabrisse, "Madame, perhaps you can help me."
He was a handsome one to boot! A shock of light brown hair, liquid blue eyes, and an olive complexion certainly stirred Fabrisse's heart. Such a voice – a working man's voice, nothing "sissified" about this one. She always admired masculine beauty, and damned herself for settling for a homely slob as Imbert l'Etrange.
Allowing herself to drift back to reality, she refocused and asked the
man his business. His only answer was, "Madame, I'm only passing through
but I need to find someone."
He paused long enough to retrieve a hand drawn likeness from his pouch. When he presented it, Fabrisse recognized the person in question at once. "Her name is Felise LaCourbe. I'd like to find her before moving one," the man said.
To which Fabrisse replied, "Oh yes! Mlle LaCourbe doesn't live near here...Her home is just across the street from Claude Frollo's lady...I can show you where it is...."
"That won't be necessary, madame," the stranger replied, only adding, "I'll find this lady with just the information you gave me. Thank you so much. Good night, madame."
"And a good night to you, sir." rejoined Fabrisse.
The man vanished out the door in a flash. No name, no introductions. Why would he want to find Mlle LaCourbe? Ah well, must be a secret admirer or an old friend...
Pushing such thoughts from her mind, Fabrisse, realizing what she had to do, hastily cleaned up then closed shop. Damn Hervé and Jacques! This is more important! Now, to Maison des Chénes before anyone sees me...
She barely got a few steps beyond the rear exit when she felt a hand upon her; a familiar voice behind hissed in her ear.
"Going somewhere, Fabrisse? Why the hurry?"
She wheeled around only to behold the face of a friend. "Jehan Frollo! My goodness, you startled me..."
Jehan was insistent. "Fabrisse, why in such a hurry? You don't close shop, not without the Marquecoins present. Now, tell me what is so important?"
Fabrisse hedged, then she panicked. Not a chance would she divulge that she's on her way to free Orry Ouimet, and that Imbert is en route to collect the ransom. She put on what she thought would make Jehan leave her alone. "Uh, Jehan, as much as I'd love to stay and chat, I do have a pressing engagement...What are you doing?! Let me go!"
Jehan now had Fabrisse in a hammerlock. He caught her arm then twisted it hard behind her, leaving her quite immobilized. Soon Fabrisse felt a prick to her skin; within seconds her body began to relax. Jehan Frollo then guided a soon-to-be disoriented Fabrisse back inside the tavern. He threw her over his shoulder and carried her upstairs to her bedchamber. Being one of Fabrisse's regulars all these years, Jehan knew every inch of that tavern.
Behind locked doors, he laid her out on the bed, then proceeded to reveal what he'd already suspected. "Don't try to escape, Fabrisse. You can't if you tried. I gave you a nice little drug – a potion that renders you quite incapacitated for a while, but leaves your mind quite open to reveal whatever I want. The New World people call it 'truth serum'."
How did Jehan Frollo, a man of the late 15th Century get hold of sodium pentothal? Thank Julian McNaney for that. The enigmatic postmodern Frollo spy-detective brought along quite an arsenal: drugs, firearms, and explosives. Jehan persuaded that the drugs could be useful in interrogating Fabrisse; the woman would obviously be more compliant than Imbert.
Stretching out beside Fabrisse and cradling her in his arms, Jehan began
a series of questions and observations that only Fabrisse could answer.
He told her nearly everything: the first ransom letter ("I recognized your
penmanship."), and the increasing suspicions surrounding her and Imbert.
"You and he became awfully close these past weeks. Tell me, Fabrisse, why settle for the likes of Imbert? When you could've had anyone, even me!"
Carefully wording his questions, Jehan Frollo proceeded to extract pertinent information from Fabrisse. It took much of the night to learn at last Orry Ouimet's precise location, and that Gypsies truly did not kidnap the boy. Armed with that information, Jehan Frollo – never called a praying man – sent up petition afar petition pleading that all would go right..
As he sped out of the tavern, Jehan, glancing up at the starry sky, pleaded, "Just let us find the boy, then this whole nightmare shall be over!"
"We do have that security system in place, my friend," reassured Julian.
Clopin was grateful for this mysterious man from the New World; often he peered into Julian's dark eyes and wondered if he could be part Gypsy. Has to be, thought the Romani King with a twinge of admiration. So what if Julian works for Frollo; the man has been mighty good to his people, and a godsend. No one had dared set foot on this island, and for that Clopin could thank Julian McNaney. Yet, the current situation demanded extra caution.
Clopin announced to his people, "To be on the safe side, may I suggest that no one travel into the city for the duration. I know it'll cut into income; we may be reduced to barely subsistence for the time being..."
Stories filtered back of Gypsies accosted and harassed on Parisian streets. In the past, in spite of Frollo, the Gypsies knew how to "play around" the man. Evading and outsmarting Claude Frollo was challenging enough; getting along with the general populace was somewhat more pliable. But the tide turned, especially now that the current Minister of Justice's seven year old nephew had been kidnapped.
Once again, the ugliness of bigotry, xenophobia, and all it entails was being aimed squarely at the Gypsies. Circumstantial evidence pointed to the Romani as the culprits, and nearly every Parisian itched to find the Court of Miracles. It was assumed that "the filthy heathens" held little Orry Ouimet captive, and that the Gypsies planned to sell him to another clan far from Paris. Perhaps they'll sell the boy to a nomadic Persian tribe. Imagine! That sweet loving child sent off as a slave labor! To infidels no less!
Rumors built upon rumors. Lies built upon lies. And all because one man could not control his compulsive habits. That man, according to Julian, was running out of options as his accomplice, at this moment and under the influence, revealed much. Only thing: Once the boy was returned safe and sound...
"Hold it, Julian!," exclaimed Esmeralda. "What if Orry could identify his kidnappers? Then this Imbert person would have to kill the boy. Don't you see? It's a death sentence for us anyway – If this man should kill the kid, dump the body where it's sure to be found, then it's on our heads again."
Julian never thought of it that way. What if there was an outside chance that Orry could positively identify his captors? Surely Imbert l'Etrange, out of desperation, would kill the kid. Then again, there were two eyewitnesses – The first, Felise, was scared silent; the other, Katerina, feared no one would believe her because she's a Gypsy.
"Yeah," Esmeralda said bitterly, "people like us, at least in the minds of Frollo and Judge Ouimet, are incapable of telling the truth. If Trina were to come forth, they'd surely arrest her – a child at that!"
Julian mulled over what Esmeralda said. Yes, in this slice of late medieval
Europe – the narrow worldview, the xenophobia, the suspicious superstitious
mindset – there was no refuge for those relegated to pariah status. That
meant all peoples who "denied our Lord" – Gypsies, Muslims, Jews – were
subject to ostracism, harassment, and outright persecution.
M. McNaney's thoughts turned to Claude Frollo, a man for whom Julian had nothing but respect albeit somewhat guarded. True, the man actively persecuted the Romani for more than thirty years, but there was something about Frollo that Julian found compelling. Maybe it was man's meticulous attention to detail; maybe it was the combination of self-control, power, and air of sheer authority, all put together in an elegant package.
Perhaps, Julian supposed, that the root of Frollo's appeal had to be the man's complexities, that intricate interweaving that no one dare untangle. That is, no one except a woman 500 years Frollo's junior. What a tremendous accommodation of centuries-old racial history and bitter memories on Danisha's part. She, an African American woman of the late 20th Century, paired herself with a late 15th Century European man. She, a product of a 500-year nightmare – slavery, black codes, Jim Crow, the Afro-American Holocaust, color barriers, growing up in a country where rights and privilege were based on how white one was. Couple all that with the racial-sexual history between white men and black women; then compound it with Claude Frollo's medieval mindset.
True, Danisha continued—still continues—to weaken what she called "the
mis-education of Claude Frollo" by letting him know just how she stood
in an unusual relationship.
Julian wondered if it all fell on deaf ears; for at this very moment, Claude Frollo, accompanying Évrard Ouimet to the ransom drop, still believes, deep down, that the Gypsies kidnapped Orry.
Damn, man, will it ever end? Can't the man realize that I have proof that these people didn't snatch that kid? Orry's not here! He's held somewhere, and I can bet good money that Judge Ouimet and Frollo think the old mill's the Court of Miracles. My hunch tells me that they're walking right in a trap. Imbert l'Etrange has no intention of letting that boy go; he'll kill the kid the moment he gets his greedy paws on the money. Maybe Jehan will come through for me – I hope the dope worked on Fabrisse...
Then there's Felise's eyewitness account...Wonder what Imbert's got on her that she won't come forth and ID the bastard...
Clopin urgently nudged Julian back to reality, saying, "We've got to go...Something's up...Look!"
Standing on the riverbank, they could see a string of torch lights in the far-off distance. Oh no, some of Judge Ouimet's goons, thought Julian with a shudder. They've found us...
"Deeper into the forest, guys. And let no one sleep tonight. Something's gone down during the ransom drop...I don't like it..."
Julian eyed Esmeralda with a peculiarity, then he asked about Katerina's whereabouts. "She's an eyewitness, too...Imbert, if he ever found her, would come after..."
When Esme suddenly realized Trina and Djalito weren't nearby, she panicked! "She was here this morning, and all afternoon..."
No one saw the lone boat drifting towards Ile de la Cité; no one detected the boat's two passengers as it docked beneath the shadows of Notre Dame.
Whatever happened? Did the ransom drop go like clockwork? Did Minister Ouimet capture the kidnappers? Or did someone get hurt?
"Quasi," said Phoebus as he came up, "try to get some sleep. I'm sure if something went wrong then we'll soon hear about it."
The ex-solider got no reply from the bell ringer. Quasimodo, his mind
on a myriad other things, quietly said to Phoebus, "Do you still love her?
And do you believe Imbert's accusations that she and the Gypsies are the
Phoebus was taken aback as Quasi repeated the question, and the former Captain offered this reply:
"Esmeralda was a sad chapter in my life. But I've learned to forgive, forget, and move on – no time to waste brooding and blaming. Come on, Quas, Esme and her kid saved Danisha's life last winter, and I haven't forgotten that. For that I owe one to Esmeralda. And no, I don't believe those lies Imbert l'Etrange so carelessly spread around. If anything, I wonder if he knows something and is unwilling to share."
The bell ringer blinked. Huh? Did he hear correctly that Phoebus bears Esmeralda no ill will, that he actually has a soft spot for the Gypsy dancer? All this insight coming from an ex-Captain of the Guard, a man with a reputation for dimness!
He smiled as he headed for the stairs, "Well, I only hope is that they found Orry safe and sound, and that Minister Ouimet arrested the real kidnappers."
Just as he and Phoebus reached the landing, they heard a child's voice calling out. "Bell ringer! Bell ringer!"
The voice sounded insistent, frantic, desperate. "Who's there?," called out Phoebus cautiously. The child showed herself on condition that she would be safe from pursuit. Once she emerged from the shadows she introduced herself then stated her business.
"I'm Katerina. My mamá is la Esmeralda. Please, bell ringer,
you must help me! I saw the real people who take the little boy and that
man says I did it. Now they come to our island, to the Court of Miracles...."
"Who's they, Katerina?," asked Quasi.
"The people! Judge Ouimet's going to give money to the people who find and kill us. They think we have Orry!"
Katerina tugged on Quasi, sobbing as she continued, "They might hurt
Mamá and Clopin. They might kill Julian....Hurry!"
To Chapter 13
Copyright©2001 by FrolloFreak® AKA "Fan Fiction Diva"