I want to thank you all for staying so patient with this. I'm following several WiPs too, and they frustrate me to death! Had to get over a major plot stumbling-block, but now that it's cleared up, things should move better than they have been. And thank you so much for everyone who pestered me to update. It does help.
Tuesday, October 16, 17:30 PM
I hadn't realized it, but I'm starving. Linguini, noticing me eyeing the grapes, brings me some to where I'm lying on the bed – I couldn't walk all the way to the table right now if you paid me – and I munch, relax and watch my friend put his son on the bed, then expertly clean up the mess and change the diaper like a pro. Flat on his back, the kid turns his head, looks blurrily at me and reaches out, and I bestir myself to slip a hand into his. He latches on again, clutching my arm, and I meet Linguini's eyes, looking up at me and smiling. "Hi, godfather," he murmurs, and I turn away to hide my smile. Maybe this baby thing will work out okay after all.
When I've eaten, I feel a little better, and the first thing I do is clamber across the bed and over to my priceless treasures, the herbs in Linguini's now-discarded clothing, lying in a heap on the coverlet. "Linguini! Over here." Obediently, he comes over and sits next to me and the baby on the bed, whereupon I commence delving into his pockets and handing him the armfuls I've gathered. He obligingly takes them from me and puts them in the pockets of his new, clean pants and shirt. "Thanks, pal."
Oh man, it was worth it just to get these herbs. They seem to ease all my pains. In the fresh fabric, they smell more intoxicating than ever, taunting me, tempting me. I close my eyes and inhale the scent, losing myself in its world for a moment, opening my eyes to find my friend touching the baby's hand with a stray stalk. "Hey there."
I roll my eyes. "Ah, Linguini, d'you expect him to play with it? He's not a kitten." But the joke's on me; the kid's hand reaches for it, bats it. Huh. Well, he has an appreciation for fines herbes, at least. Come to think of it, he's Colette's son, Gusteau's grandkid – who knows, we may have a chef in the family yet!
The little guy is asleep on the bed next to me by the time Colette finally emerges from the bathroom, swathed in an enormous bathrobe. There's an acrid, metallic smell accompanying her, and I should know what it is, but her next words distract me. "I had a great idea in the shower. Listen, mon Chef. What do you think of René-Antoine for a name, Alfredo?"
His head jerks up. They've discussed names endlessly, but hadn't reached a final selection yet. I know Linguini had wanted to name her after his mother if it was a girl, but what with the competition and being shot at and one thing and another, baby names were kind of the last thing on their minds.
"Uh, sure, if you say so," he stammers, then nods again, rolling it around in his brain, seeming to like it. "Yeah," he says finally. "The middle name's a nice idea. Ego'll be pleased."
The mention of Ego makes me slightly uneasy, like there's something I've forgotten to do, but my muddled brain can't quite figure out why. I dismiss the concern for later. We'll be seeing him soon enough. And that smell…
Colette towels her hair dry, her voice muffled under the white terrycloth, with a sharpness as though Linguini's missing something. "You do know what the female form of René is, don't you?"
"Uh, well, I'm not so good with French names..."
"Renée." She waits for recognition, but is disappointed.
He stares blankly. "Like the American actress?"
"You know what it means?"
She rolls her eyes. "It means reborn, right?" She waits for the nod. "And 'reborn' in Italian is..."
Linguini sits very still as realization hits. She waits for him to finish her sentence, but he can't. Finally she has to say it for him.
I can't help smiling as I see his eyes fill. He opens his mouth to say something, but suddenly it hits me what that smell is, as Colette looks at us. "Uh… Copains," she says, voice faint, "I think there might be a minor… problem…"
She slowly crumples to the ground, a bloodstain spreading over the back of her pristine white bathrobe.
Tuesday, October 16, 19:00 PM
The hour-long wait outside emergency surgery, interrupted by a phone call from the Mayor, seems like forever. I think he uses his pull a bit, because Alfredo and I finally manage to get in to see Colette. As we make our way into Urgences, we hear her before we can see her. "…and I'm leaving right now! Do you hear me?!"
I think the whole street can hear her voice, interspersed now with the hard tenor voice of the doctor on duty, who might not uncharitably be described as pitching a hissy. "I hear someone with a death-wish!"
"This competition has some of the best chefs in the world! Do you have any idea how important it is to me?"
"More important than your life?"
"Ah, my life's not at stake! You've got the 'fragile woman' syndrome!"
"You're crazy…" the voices come closer as we walk through the curtained alcoves, looking for the right one, "absolutely crazy! do I look like a vet?"
"I wouldn't know!" Colette's voice is weak but still has its edge. "Do you feel like a vet?"
"I'm only asking because you're damned lucky you only gave yourself internal bleeding, not ripped out your uterus like a cow! How could you do that to yourself?!"
Colette snorts. "Of course, typical male argument: Pregnant women should stay at home where they belong!"
The voices are coming from the last alcove on the left; a group of nurses are standing outside, eavesdropping with amusement on their faces. At the last comment, they burst out giggling.
The doctor is still yelling. "Well, at least they shouldn't go jumping out of parachutes!"
"It's not like I had any choice!"
Seeing Linguini, they smile. A kind nurse takes Rene-Antoine off our hands and we eagerly part the curtain.
"Shows how much you know. I'm signing myself out of here and nothing you can say or do will stop me!"
Any fears I might have had for her health are dispelled by the sheer volume of her arguing with the duty surgeon, an imposing figure in a baggy white coat, tall, dark and handsome with big muscles and a ponytail. The broad back moves aside as we approach, to reveal Colette sitting up on the wheeled bed, very pale but with two bright spots of colour in her cheeks as she argues with the doctor.
"You lost a dangerous amount of blood, Madame. There's no way you're getting up out of this bed!" snaps the médecin, whose nametag reads "Dr. Bardin".
"This is the event of a lifetime! I can't miss it!"
"You'll surely miss it if you're dead!"
"Colette…" Linguini begins.
"Stay out of this!" she snaps.
But Bardin turns to him. "Look, I don't know if you can talk any sense into your wife," the doc looks him up and down, "maybe not… but anyway, that little parachute stunt gave her an internal hemorrhage. She's damned lucky she didn't rupture anything important. If she goes walking around now she'll end up with a prolapsed uterus!"
Linguini goes deathly white. He obviously knows what it is, but Colette waves a dismissive hand. "What's that, anyway? How bad can it be?"
Hands on hips, the doctor states coldly, "That's when you're walking around minding your own business, and suddenly floop! your womb's hanging out of your vagina like a used condom!"
I gulp, but Colette's having none of it. "Oh stop exaggerating!" she snaps. "I should have expected that a man wouldn't understand!" Dr. Bardin tries to protest, but she just turns to Linguini. "Where's Rene?"
"A nurse has him, just outside. Colette…"
"Let me handle this, cheri." She turns back to the representative of medical authority. "So why can't I get up and walk out of this hospital, again?"
"You have to stay flat on your back, at least until your stitches dissolve," the doctor says, not unsympathetically, "or you really will get a prolapse."
"Flat on my back! What is this, the Victorian era?"
"No, it's 2008, but I'm the one who's just put forty-seven stitches into you!"
"It's always the same," fumes Colette. "Can't ever escape the stereotypes. Pregnancy, childbirth, fragile, delicate flower…"
"It's not about stereotypes, it's about your health!" the doctor explodes. "I'm not trying to trap you in the home, for crying out loud! I just don't want to have to sew your uterus back up like a split seam on a cheap corset!"
Colette fixes the handsome doctor with a glare. "That's enough! My uterus this, my uterus that… What would you know about what women go through?"
The doctor sighs. "I've been trying to tell you… I know a little bit about stereotyping too."
"Since when does a man…"
The broad mouth quirks upward. "Dr. Juliette Bardin, at your service."
Our mouths drop open. Colette stammers, "Tu es une femme?"
The doc shrugs, half-apologetically. "Hey, I like bodybuilding. What can I say?"
Our nutty friend picks up her jaw, closes her mouth, then breaks into a smile. "Well, that's different!"
Tuesday, October 16, 21:00 PM
We were lucky that time. It didn't turn out to be as bad as I feared. Once Colette found out Bardin was a woman, they got along much better, and with some nudging by the Mayor, they agreed to take her on a gurney so she could attend the competition. Colette, that is, not the doc. She gives her a list of medications as long as your arm, although I can't shake the feeling that there should be something natural that can help her instead of all these chemicals…
The hospital's equipped with an airlift, though we don't really need one. Arrangements are made in a blur – it's nice to be important, I must admit. Obstacles are erased from your path, things run smoothly, and everything seems to be arranged for your convenience. They arrange for us to spend the night on a cot in Colette's room, and get airlifted to Genovia for the competition early tomorrow morning.
The end of a ver-ry long day, I think as I snuggle down next Linguini's head on the crisp, white pillow, filled with a smell of disinfectant that makes my eyes burn. Burn so badly that I can't sleep. I can't afford this—my nose can't be inflamed tomorrow. Grumbling, I slide down Linguini's side until I come to the pocket with the herbs. Climbing onto his body, I gently slide into a pocket. Surrounded by fresh, clean fabric that insulates me from the chemical odors, perfumed with the herbs that have suffused Linguini's clothing, I finally settle into a peaceful sleep.
Tuesday, October 16, 21:00 PM
Pierre groans as the flight controller tells him of the latest development; that the party he awaits will not be coming to the airport at all that night, that they will be airlifted directly to the site. Oh no, not again. "Can't I be the pilot?"
"Je suis désolée, Monsieur." The voice on the radio is genuinely apologetic. "The medical airlift is going to take them directly to the competition site."
Pierre looks at the little rat beside him, the soft snores of Anton in the rear of the plane in counterpoint to the tinny amplifier. "You're sure it is them?"
"Oh oui." She waits a beat. "Well, reasonably sure."
"What do you mean, reasonably sure?"
The lady's hesitant voice says, "Well, I have not seen them with my own eyes, you see, I suppose there is always a chance that I might be wrong as I was before…"
"Forget it." Pierre shrugs. Just get Anton to the competition site, and then he can either see them, or, well, or not. No false hope, no potentially heart-stopping shocks. One more push, that's all it'll take… "Is it okay with you if we spend the night in the plane?" he whispers to the rat.
The tiny animal nods. "Bon. Okay. We'll let him sleep in the plane till dawn, convince him, take him there, and we can finally see your brother and his friends—or not…"
Looking at the sleeping, defeated figure of his old friend, he thinks this one will be harder than he'd like. He leans back in his seat and closes his eyes, his weary voice pitched low for the sensitive ears of the rat.
"I'm getting too old for this."
Wednesday, October 17, 06:00 AM
His eyes snap open and for a split-second between sleep and wakefulness, he still envisions his world as it's supposed to be – the poles in place, the sky not ripped out from above him leaving a gaping black void that nothing and no-one can fill, his heart not torn from his chest and leaving a sick, jagged hole where warmth and feeling used to be. But it's only for a split-second, and then everything returns. The pain is worse than he can remember, and if he were up to thinking, he would conclude that this is his penance for allowing himself to feel again, for not having learnt the first time.
"Are you really going to let them get away with this?"
Hunched over in the narrow space of the plane, Pierre still has to look downwards at Anton's slumped figure, the dark eyes looking up at him slow and sluggish, the feisty spark extinguished. Pierre quashes his sympathy and ploughs on ruthlessly. "Anton, the person who—who did this to them—it's surely another chef, non?"
No response. The dead eyes blink, then stray out of the window.
Chilled, Pierre nevertheless forges ahead as though he has received a response. "Anton. Anton. These people were your friends. Will you let them go unavenged?"
The eyes slide back to him briefly, then out of the window again.
"Will you, Anton? Hmm?" Pierre keeps prodding, scared of this semi-catatonic state. "Will you just let their killer slip away? Hm, Anton?"
Anton finally looks up at him bleakly. "There are the police for that."
"And a fat lot of good it did them!" Pierre explodes. "They didn't do a thing until you got them moving! These provincial policiers are hopeless! They don't even know the most likely suspects! Mais toi—you might, mightn't you?"
His friend's eyes slip closed. "Pierre, I am rather tired."
"Non!" Pierre's bursting to tell him they're alive, but can he take the chance of getting the broken hopes up, then shattering them again? No—he can't risk it. Steeling himself, he raises his voice. "I never thought you would be so selfish."
That gets a reaction; it's the merest raising of the dull gaze, but it's a step.
Pierre knows he's being cruel, and actually opens his mouth to tell him what he knows. Knows? He doesn't know for sure they're alive—it's hearsay from a radio operator who's been wrong before. Can he trust his friend's fragile sanity to that?
He sighs, knowing he can't, and speaks. "It is selfish to wallow in your grief, letting their killer escape justice."
Anton remains silent.
"Is that what you want? For the murderer to go scot-free?"
The silence stretches on so long that Pierre opens his mouth to say something else, but then Anton speaks, slowly. "Revenge, Pierre?"
"Not revenge." What he's saying is the truth, technically, but it still leaves a bad taste in his mouth. "Justice. For your friends."
"Are you proposing I gun the killer down in a dramatic vendetta?" There's the faintest trace of irony in the tone, bitter as gall.
"Non," Pierre says firmly. "But help justice to be done. Help the police find the man who impersonated an officer and crashed the plane."
"It won't," his friend says in a monotone, "bring them back." The thready bass voice is so infinitely weary Pierre wants to stop, wants to embrace him, but can only forge on.
"No," he agrees, "it won't. But their killer does not deserve to escape justice. For the humans, who will be mourned as heroes, and for—" He pauses as the fat little rat peeks out of his pocket. "For the petit chef you speak of, who will never be known, mourned, remembered. Doesn't he at least deserve that his murderer be handed over to the police?"
The dark eyes rise up, agonized. "Pierre, I—"
The little rat adds his squeak to the speech.
Anton's shoulders slump. "What would you have me do?"
"I bet you know who could have done this, hmm? From your knowledge of the circuit? The most ruthless ones, who'll stop at nothing?"
His friend blinks. "Per…haps."
"Aw, c'mon. You? Who were the worst ones? Who fought the dirtiest?"
Anton's face loses a little of its grey tinge as he remembers, confusedly. "Meriflan was the worst, but he's retired. Skinner wasn't the most decent fighter either, but he's not in it…" He trails off. "I don't remember everyone who will be at the competition." His face crumples. "Stupid, stupid idea…"
Pierre goes on smoothly. "We can go there, look at the list, see whom you remember who would do something like this…"
"To the competition. You can…"
Pierre groans. It was the reaction he expected, but he doesn't show it. "Are you going to start that again?"
"I cannot go. Don't ask me to."
The rat squeaks.
The critic looks desperately up at him. "I cannot face crowds of people! I…"
"Ecoute!" Pierre intones, at the end of his patience. "I'm aware you don't want to confront anyone. I'm aware that you just want to crawl into a hole for the rest of your life and never come out again. But I'm saying, do this for your friends You owe it to them. And…" if it turns out not to be them, if they really have been killed, "…you'll have the rest of your life afterwards to mourn."
Anton looks dully out of the window. "What time is it?"
"Six-thirty. They start at nine. We can get there if we move it."
Anton slumps back in his seat, then sits bolt upright. "Amarus!"
Still grieving, still half-dead, he seems to be running on adrenaline as his unnaturally bright eyes bore into Pierre's. "Of course. Mors Amarus, Genovian royal chef. Dirtiest fighter I've ever known. Bitter little fellow, suspected of doing away with two of his rivals, never anything proved." The spark fades as quickly as it burned. "It doesn't do to accuse people without proof…"
"…but it won't do any harm to confront him and see what he says," finishes Pierre decisively.
Gripping the armrests, Anton moves to strap himself in, a certain dignity in his grief. "Let us go."