NEW YORK CITY * A FRIDAY EVENING IN FEBRUARY
The closer they get to JFK, the more Emmett is tempted to ask the cabbie to turn around. But it’s too late, they are being funneled into one of the departure lanes. “Maybe I’ll skip the flight, relax in the terminal lounge, and go home after the traffic dies down.”
“Nah, you know that won’t work. Impossible since 9/11,” the driver calls back as the taxi stops in the airport’s designated area. He jumps out and yanks Emmett’s carry-on from the trunk. "Are you visiting friends in Paris?”
“Wish I could, but I’ll be out in the country, Burgundy’s canal region.” Emmett slips into his coat and opens his wallet. “I'm staying at a little hotel where my friends lived for a while. They became friends with the owner, a famous Parisian chef. Thanks again.” He peels off the bills, waves and jogs through the snow towards the Air France check-in line.
Emmett is the last to board, and when the flight attendant looks up, he wonders about her familiar smile. She must look this friendly to all the passengers, he thinks, but when he starts to remove his coat and his long hair snags on a button, she helps free it. Emmett’s dark hair is worn to the mid-line of his turtleneck sweater. He always wears turtlenecks, even with a suit.
“May I hang your coat in our closet?” She strokes the alpaca sleeve. He had treated himself to this luxury a few years earlier and it warms Emmett emotionally as well as physically, a bit like a security blanket, and for a moment he is reluctant to give it up. “It will be just fine. Right here.” She pats the pilot’s closet.
“Yeah, well . . . .” He tilts his head to the side, in order to read the name-tag, decorated with a small Algerian flag. “That would be great, thanks. I appreciate it, Rachida.”
The bulkhead seat has the long legroom Emmett needs, but he does not sleep. He stares into the blackness, tinged green by the starboard light and tries to imagine what his earliest life might have been like. It must have been brief--his time before the French orphanage. His temple rests against the cool window and he takes a deep breath. “So, who are you?” he asks his reflection.
Emmett had given up wondering about his background when he was ten, but now that forgotten past is beginning to haunt his dreams and the vague memories are interfering with his work to the point that he must know more--even if it unleashes a history better left forgotten.
SATURDAY MORNING * PARIS The moment the plane taxies to a stop, the aisles fill with exhausted passengers, pulling their things from the overhead compartments, and anxious to stand on the ground. Emmett stays seated. No one is waiting for him.
“Thank you for flying Air France; enjoy our City . . . Thank you for flying . . .” Rachida repeats the phase to every second passenger to the last, then opens the pilot’s closet and places the long black coat over Emmett’s arm. “Will you be in Paris long?”
“No, this was a spur of the moment trip and I’ve got to go straight through to Burgundy. Maybe I’ll see you on my way back next weekend.”
“That would be lovely.” As she smiles, he wants more than ever to stay in the city and abandon the idea of going to the canal region altogether, only he cannot.
Walking through the terminal, Emmett visualizes the canal charts in his bag, and tries to calculate how long it will take to recognize the orphanage. “Two days at the most,” he whispers, “I’m sure I remember every stone.”
Since he left, twenty-five years ago, Emmett has held the image of the building in his mind, but until lately it was like a chess piece he couldn’t place on the board. Now that he knows the region, he plans to locate the ancient castle, ask to examine their records, and then go back to Paris for at least a few days before his return flight.
However, at this moment, he is headed towards the Gare de Lyon where he plans to catch the southbound express.
As his cab passes through the narrow streets, he opens the window in order to breathe in this city’s essence. The diesel and damp-stone aroma characteristic of old European cities is what Emmett loves. Only here, there is also the wonderful scent of foods unique to Paris and every few blocks are different: sautéed onions, warm breads, roasted pecans, meats, and sauces of every description. Eventually, he is forced to close the window when a light rain starts to blow in.
Emmett is studying the train schedule, noting that he will barely make it, when suddenly his knees are forced against the back of the front seat. The cab has come to a complete halt. “Merde!” the driver shouts as he pounds on the steering wheel and rocks forward and back. The taxi has stopped next to the figure of a young woman who is retrieving orange mailing tubes from the street. As she bends, the wind catches her green cape and blows it over her head, knocking her hat off and into the street as well. Emmett can hear her beside his door, laughing aloud as they wait and the cab’s engine idles. When at last the wayward tubes and the hat are gathered, she stands, shakes the rainwater from her cap and plops it over her short blonde hair while she continues to laugh at herself. She seems almost childlike. The traffic signal has turned red again and she stands in the street, only inches from the taxi.
“Clumsy but beautiful non?” the driver calls to the backseat.
“Yes, beautiful.” However aside from the obvious, it is her sense of humor and those mailing tubes--identical to the kind he uses--that Emmett is focusing on. Each has a gold emblem, a horse surrounded by a tall round-cornered rectangle, and he is fascinated by the logo. Like a cartouche. But why should I be paying so much attention to that? he wonders.
While the taxi waits for the light to change again, she moves a little closer and peers through Emmett’s window . . . her face is flushed and damp with rain . . . then all at once she leans forward, her wet angora cap touching his reflection . . . and her gold locket begins to swing forward and back its long chain . . . tapping on his cab’s door.
She is right there, next to the glass and yet she does not lower her eyes nor look away. Instead, she holds his gaze for a beat . . . an extra beat . . . and smiles. It’s a strange little smile that crinkles her nose. She makes Emmett feel awkward, in fact embarrassed, but he can’t make himself focus anywhere else. Her blue-gray eyes hold him there and now her lips are moving, but he hears only the tap, tap . . . tapping of the locket on the door. What could she be whispering? He is reaching for the lever to lower the window when suddenly she glances to her left, steps back two paces and up onto the curb behind her.
Just then a car’s horn blasts from the rear, the taxi lurches forward, and Emmett is slammed against his seat back as the cab speeds across the intersection and stops. He twists his neck and shoulders, straining to catch another glimpse of the girl as the taxi waits behind a truck, and more traffic crowds in. He can only catch glimpses of her between the cars that pass behind them now. Finally he turns completely around, gets on his knees and looks through the rain-beaded back window.
She is still there, standing at the curb and smiling at him between the crowd of vehicles--as if they share a secret. Her teal green cape is swirling around her and as it swings wildly, he notices its black and green tartan lining. Other than the cape, she is dressed like many Parisian women at this time of year: black high necked sweater and black slacks tucked into tall, high-heeled black boots . . . and on especially long legs, he notes.
She continues to watch him with that peculiar, mischievous expression while holding tightly to her bundle of orange mailers.
“What was she trying to tell me?” he murmurs, still on his knees in that awkward position.
“You know her?” The driver tilts his head back and looks at Emmett through his rear view mirror. “She spoke to you. Yes?”
“Yes . . . a sort of whisper.” Emmett wipes the rear window with the back of his hand. “But no . . . I don’t know her. I’m sure.”
He has lost sight of the green cape among the cars now and turns around to face forward. All he can make of the experience is the similarity of their mailing tubes. “That’s got to be what made it meaningful since I’ll never see her again,” he says under his breath, more to himself than to the driver. “But . . .”
“But what? You want to go back? If we do, you’ll miss your train.”
“No, that’s all right. She must have thought I was someone else. And she’d be gone by the time we drove all the way around. Still, I had a strange impulse to open my door and . . .”
“And? What impulse? You mean to get out?”
“I don’t know. Almost.” Emmett is studying the small impression of her cap on his window, watching the bits of black angora still clinging to the glass. Starting to blow away in the wind.
Once settled on the train, with time to think more clearly, he begins to realize that something besides those mailing tubes passed between them. Something that made words unnecessary.
SATURDAY EVENING * BURGUNDY The express train arrives in Dijon at 4:00 in the afternoon and Emmett goes directly to the rental agency inside the station to pick up a blue Renault Twingo, a small hatchback with a stick shift. He never drives in Paris, though he loves to watch from cafes as exasperated locals park--alternating forward and reverse, bumper-car fashion--modifying other vehicles as they shoehorn themselves into some illusion of space.
It is almost 6:00 when he approaches the hotel, and through a light drizzle, he spots the swinging sign. Restaurant Canal Bleu /Chef Albert Lefebvre is lighted on both sides by coach lanterns. As he parks off the road and steps from the car, he notices how brilliantly the moonlight shines on the rectangular building. “What a strange night, magical. Almost like daytime,” he whispers.
Emmett had phoned from Paris and is expected, but as Chef Lefebvre retrieves the key from behind the small bar, he scarcely looks up. He is a hulk of a man of about fifty to fifty-five, with a red mustache and thinning hair of the same color. “You should park in the rear.” His head motions to the side. “Drive back there, by the canal. Dinner starts at seven-thirty and I’m serving my wild boar with truffles.” He nods to the darkened restaurant as he slides the registry across the bar. “I expect a full house, so arrive early.”
After moving the car, Emmett comes back through the front door, climbs the creaking wooden stairs and walks down the hall to the rear of the building, to room #3. He remembers Jonathan writing that their room overlooked the canal, and as he feels for the light switch and steps across the threshold, the old floorboards squeak slightly. Emmett finds himself instantly enthralled. He walks through the room, pulls the long windows open, and pushes the shutters out over the small iron balcony. The drizzle has stopped and the air is icy, actually bone-chilling. His breath steams ahead of him as he steps through the window and stands with his hands lightly touching the wet railing.
The full moon and dome of brilliant stars illuminate the entire countryside and the canal resembles a wide ribbon of silver. It is eerily quiet until Emmett hears himself, “Lu uune . . . lune,” he repeats the sound once more, “lune,” before backing into the room and pulling the shutters closed. Standing there, with his fingers on the window latch, he wonders why he said that. It’s as if the word held some hidden meaning, and he wonders if it translates to ‘moon’ or ‘the one?’ He presses the windows closed and turns to survey the warm inviting room. The word is soon forgotten as he sets about unpacking.
While eating dinner, Emmett examines the charts Jonathan had mailed of the Burgundy canals. With nine of them, and hundreds of miles of waterways in the region, he plans to limit his search for the orphanage to those canals closest to Dijon.
Then, during his second course, he is aware of a shadow hovering over his papers. The chef is towering over Emmett’s table, arms folded across his chest and glaring down at the charts. “Why must you Americans always play with something while you eat? What is wrong with you people?”
Emmett pushes the map aside, and with a flourish lifts his wine glass in a salute. “You are correct. I forgot where I was!” He leans over his plate and takes a long whiff of the shallots, butter and wine sauce. “My professor, Jonathan St. James, told me about you and your wonderful restaurant. Look, he even marked your location on my map.” Emmett pushes it across the table and spins it around. On the border of the chart is written Best food in France with a long line leading to a blue star beside the canal. “I asked for room #3 because when Jonathan and Elise lived here they were crazy over it; she even painted silver stars on the bathroom ceiling.”
“Ah, mon dieu,” his host gasps, “Why did you not tell me sooner? I remember the professor speaking of Emmett, his star pupil. Except he called you ‘Em,’ as if you were his own son. One of the reasons he was waiting for you was that you’d promised to help him with his French. Yours is still quite good! But why did you not arrive last year? Jonathan was expecting you.”
“It’s a long story.” Emmett takes a deep breath. “Even though I’ve had my plane tickets for a couple of months, I didn’t want to use them once I learned they’d died. But I couldn’t see myself asking for a refund either. . . . So at the last minute . . .”
“No, no. . . . absolutely correct!” Lefebvre interrupts, his fingers combing his fine red hair. “I cannot tell you how much I miss him. Both of them.” Tears fill the chef’s eyes and stream down his heavy cheeks. Then without a word he turns and walks away, head down and mopping his face on his long white apron.
After dinner, with the maps spread out on the bed, Emmett is able to get an overall perspective of the distances from the hotel to each of the canals. Canal de la Marne seems to be a good place to start; the chart lists many feudal castles in that region.
* * * * *
SUNDAY MORNING * Before going down to breakfast, Emmett tucks his skip rope, a fold-up rain slicker and two canal charts into the pockets of his long black alpaca coat. As he starts to close the door, he notices his idea notebook on the floor beside the bed. The top page is blank except for a single oval dawn in the center. Emmett doesn’t remember waking to draw it, and hasn’t a clue what it means, but he removes that sheet from the pad and slips it into the desk drawer.
He feels completely relaxed--having slept better than at any time since he learned of Jonathan and Elise’s death, and there is also the clear sensation that he may have dreamt of the girl with the orange mailing tubes. He has some fleeting awareness of that swirling green cape, those long legs encircling him and the cool metal of her locket between their chests.
Downstairs, the chef hurries over, takes Emmett aside and whispers conspiratorially, “I’ve received one cancellation for today’s luncheon . . . I have reserved that place for you.”
Emmett knows about the extravagance of Chef Lefebvre’s Sunday de’jeuners from Jonathan’s letters. It is sure to be a six-course event requiring at least five hours. Many patrons, even other cooks, have followed the famous chef’s career--from his legendary creations and explosions of temper in Paris--to his new restaurant here, near Dijon. They will arrive at Restaurant Canal Bleu by car or train. Everyone ready to enjoy the lavish production.
“Thank you for asking; I know what an honor it is. Jonathan wrote that he and Elise came every Sunday, but I can’t spare the time. I need to get to the canals as soon as possible since the days are so short.”
Lefebvre frowns. “Humph,” he snorts, spins and marches back towards his kitchen. Emmett can hear the chef muttering something about Americans on his way through the long hallway.
When he finishes the excellent omelet, which was more or less thrown at him, Emmett hands key #3 to his host, who looks him up and down, his forehead furrowed. “Why are you wearing that elegant coat? You are in the country. Or didn’t you notice?”
“I did notice, of course. It’s just that I feel better when I wear it. Jonathan and Elise helped me pick it out when I got my first job with an architectural firm, and I’m still trying to get over losing them.”
“Ahhhh, I understand, I am trying to get over as well.” The chef wraps a heavy arm around Emmett’s shoulder, hugs with surprising power and kisses his cheek.
It is almost 9:00, an hour later than he’d planned, when Emmett backs the Twingo down the long gravel driveway, stops to recheck the canal chart and heads northeast.
After driving for an hour through rolling hills of leaf-bare vineyards, he parks beside a small church overlooking the canal. The priest will surely know the direction of the orphanage, he thinks. As he walks in, the 10:00 bells are chiming and Emmett waits for someone to come down from the bell tower. After several minutes, he calls up the spiral staircase, “Bonjour. . . Hello! . . . Bonjour!” to no reply. The place is empty and he realizes the bells were rung by a clockwork mechanism, a carillon.
Stepping outside he notices the plaque by the door, La messe de dimanche 1200 heures--Sunday Mass, 12:00 o’clock--and glances at his watch. “I can’t wait two hours!” Emmett groans, walks to far the end of the parking lot and looks down to the canal trail. He decides to leave the car here. Then he can spot the bell tower when he comes back.
The air smells of rain and Emmett checks that the slicker is in his pocket. Then, pulling Elise’s wool scarf around his neck, he locks the Twingo. His heels dig into the soft earth as his long strides take him down the gentle grade. Near the water’s edge, he stops to look up, checks that he can see the tower, then heads south on the tightly packed mud trail.
The canals and trails were designed in the sixteen hundreds, and for centuries strong horses pulled the commercial barges. The barge-horse trails still rise and fall with the terrain on both sides of the water.
Ancient buildings are spaced unevenly along the canal and from a distance some appear promising, but they each turn out to be warehouses, boathouses, or indistinguishable ruins.
After two hours of walking, he has seen only one elderly fisherman with his companion—an old dog—and the sight makes Emmett miss Fleet, his Greyhound. Fleet would love this place, he thinks, those long legs of his could go flat-out forever. In Manhattan they run together twice a day for at least an hour, but he has never joined a team or run a race. Except for the Greyhound, Emmett is a solitary runner.
The wind is picking up and the gusts are cutting. He is thankful for his warm scarf and long alpaca coat and he breathes steam into the scarf’s fabric while keeping his clenched hands jammed into the deep pockets. “Why didn’t I bring some gloves?”
Leaves that fell months ago stick to Emmett’s shoes and he scrapes them off on rocks from time to time until he gives up. The recent rains have washed mud into the water and its dark surface ripples as the wind travels across diagonally. On the other side of the canal, a broken fog rolls down the hills and occasionally obscures even the closest buildings or bridges.
He is walking with the current and from time to time can see the hazy silhouette of a barge as the fog moves. Emmett estimates it at six hundred feet ahead and moving at maybe four or five miles an hour. Calculating lengths, heights, angles and sometimes speeds is a habit, a game he has played since childhood.
The engine’s diesel fumes hang in the fog, and he begins to remember when he watched the barges from the orphanage tower. “Weren’t there more then?” he asks himself.
To his left, and up a gently sloping twenty-foot hill, Emmett can hear a thump, thump . . . thump, together with children’s shouts and laughter. And though he can’t see them, he knows the sound. Boys playing soccer. “Probably in a field by the road,” he whispers, as he bends into the wind. His long paces are carrying him further along the trail, and he is wrapping the scarf more tightly around his neck, when he senses something coming down the hill behind him. A ball is rolling towards the water and two boys are running as fast as they can behind it. Emmett spins and takes several leaps to intercept it, when the boys make its rescue at the last possible moment. The kids wave a merci as they trudge back up the hill, laughing and calling to their friends.
He turns back to his original route. The barge is now about 1000 feet ahead, almost invisible, and Emmett is beginning to think this is the wrong area altogether. Nothing seems familiar. He decides to walk to the next rise in the trail, then climb the hill to the road and thumb a ride back to his car. He picks up the pace, anxious to get back to the Twingo in order to start his search along a different canal and maybe even find a church with a priest who knows of the orphanage.
But as he reaches the rise in the trail, he stops. Beyond, the entire canal scene is different. There are no trees, buildings, bridges, or even hills on the other side of the water, just a flat expanse of moving fog as far as he can see. Emmett hesitates on that small high point of the trail, studying the darkening landscape. A heavy cloud is moving over the scene and it seems much colder. He unwraps and re-wraps the scarf even more tightly around his neck and face, then tucks it across his chest inside his soft, warm coat.
Only his eyes are exposed as he looks to his left at the hill, but instead of climbing it and catching a ride, he takes several paces, tentatively--feeling somehow that he is meant to be here--and not to catch a ride.
He presses forward another hundred feet, then something at the edge of his awareness, something in the canal catches his attention. Emmett shrugs it off and continues quickly for several more steps, then pauses, stands motionless and then retraces those steps . . . backwards, and stops. He stands, wondering why he is there, but after a moment, he turns, moves his feet to the very edge of the bank and peers into the murky water. The moving fog obscures whatever he may have seen a minute ago.
Then, through a clearing in the mist, Emmett thinks he sees it again. He stands transfixed, holding his breath and concentrating on that spot in the water, when he feels compelled to investigate. He squats, one knee on the wet ground and stares into the fog. And in spite of growling “stupid!” at himself, he starts to descend crab-like down the muddy bank, slipping between rocks and roots for more than five feet until he reaches the water’s edge.
There is no shoreline and his shoes sink into the icy mud, but he hardly notices; he is too engrossed in finding out what he just saw.
It is right there, just below the surface and glinting slightly in the overcast sky. It looks metallic . . . like a golden oval, maybe an inch and a half long. But why should I care? he wonders. Why can’t I just leave it here?
“I can’t believe I’m doing this!” Emmett mutters as he bends low to retrieve the shiny thing, and he almost touches it, when the ripples of the water move it a couple inches beyond his grasp. He straightens up, takes a deep breath and starts to unbutton his coat, as he watches the thing float just a few feet further away. Trying to be patient, he waits for the current to push it back towards him. And it does.
This time he squats quickly, almost throwing himself into the canal in order to grab it. “Gotcha!” Emmett laughs as he slides his right hand into the water beneath the object and, bent in this tentative position, he studies the golden oval which now floats in his palm. A locket! Its long chain hangs between his fingers and disappears into the darkness. His hand with the locket is still in the water as he squats lower and begins to pull on the chain with his other hand, but as the chain is withdrawn, Emmett feels something stroke, almost caress his right hand from beneath the surface. Dropping, almost throwing the locket, Emmett’s hand snaps to his chest as he jumps to his feet and he hears himself make a strange, “Whuuuf!” sound. A sort of bark.
Meanwhile, whatever touched his fingers is rising to the surface, precisely where his hand had been just seconds ago.
“What the?” Time stands still, and as the fog parts, Emmett is looking directly at the snow-white face of a girl--or young woman--he is not sure which. “Her lips were on my fingers.”
The slight movement of the water is rocking her gently from side to side and the current is carrying her to his left. The brambles beneath the water have entangled her long hair and gown so that she is now held fast at his feet. He seems hypnotized, standing there, but when her delicate hand floats to the side and touches his shoe, Emmett instinctually leans back to get away. “Stop!” He’s not sure if he means her or himself, as he tries to pull his feet from the mud. But they seem to be stuck, as if in concrete and he tries to make himself relax.
A gauze-like nightgown swirls around her arms and legs, and where it touches skin the fabric becomes invisible. Her flesh looks almost transparent, as if she is made of pale translucent alabaster and her veins contrast grotesquely with this whiteness. Her long hair appears dark as it floats around her shoulders and face.
“Thank God her eyes are closed,” he murmurs, releasing a breath.
She seems strangely peaceful. And though he senses he should not, Emmett bends closer and studies her delicate features, until he is drawn to the thing that caught his attention in the first place. The locket. In its center is a small diamond surrounded by engraved vines. He wants to pick it up again, however it now rests in the hollow of her throat and he is reluctant to touch it. Instead, Emmett stands and slips both hands into his coat pockets.
The muddy embankment drops sharply into the canal and there is little room to negotiate since he cannot turn around, but he is twisting and craning his neck, examining the slope behind him, trying to figure out how to get himself, or her, out when he is vaguely aware of something else happening in the water and turns back.
A small photograph is edging its way out of the locket and is about to drift away. And even though his feet were immovable a moment ago, he finds they can be pulled from the mud now. Emmett steps deeper into the water, in order to get the picture, and reaches as far as possible. A moment passes, then the little picture floats over and comes to rest on the tip of his middle finger.
In the mist, and at arm’s length, it appears to be the face of a man. Steadying himself, Emmett starts to bring the picture closer, but even before he can focus clearly, a sudden chill causes the hairs on the back of his neck to rise. The strength drains from his arms and he curls the photograph into a weak fist. “No!” Emmett opens his hand and stares again at the wet picture in his palm. “Can’t be.” He falls back against the muddy embankment and squeezes his eyes closed, hoping he was wrong, then opens them again.
“Oh God . . . it’s me!” he gasps.
He is trying to catch his breath, and is confused about what he should do. At last, though he doesn’t want to, Emmett feels he must touch her. He hesitates, waiting for another feeling to take over. . . . When none does, he reaches out slowly until his fingers are on her cheek. Its iciness startles him and he pulls his hand back. At last it has registered.
“Help! Une fille morte!” He thinks he is shouting but he’s not sure; he doesn’t think he heard his own voice. Then tilting his head back, in order to be heard beyond the edge of the embankment, he tries again. “Une fille morte!” Emmett swallows and shouts again more loudly, more forcefully, scarcely recognizing himself. He is calling to the boys on the hill and he thinks he can hear them--still kicking the ball. “Une fille morte! Here! Here in the water!” He repeats it three or four more times, but the wind has picked up, and as he feels it blow through his open coat, he wonders if his words are blowing away too.
At last their answer comes through the fast moving fog, “Nous venons, nous venons!” He can hear the boys yelling, running down the hill and onto the trail. It sounds as if there could be as many as fifteen or twenty of them as they get closer.
All at once he realizes that he must decide what to do. He can’t allow them to see her like this, almost naked. He must cover her. And what about the picture? The tiny photo is still pressed into his palm. He can’t let them see it! But why? Why should he be so nervous? It’s not a picture of him. It can’t be. He has never been here.
But there’s no time to figure it out now. He is concentrating on the sound of the boys when, as if someone else has taken over, Emmett sees himself pull the collar away from his turtleneck sweater, then his silk undershirt, and drop the photograph inside. He can feel the wet picture on his chest. He stands still again, listening, and though he can barely see above the wall of mud, he can hear them coming fast.
Suddenly he ducks down, hoping they will not know where to look as he searches frantically for something to put over her. Anything! But there’s nothing, not even shrubbery, except for those underwater brambles.
Finally, with no time and no option, Emmett pulls his arms from his long black alpaca coat and stands holding it out over the water. He waits, expecting some other idea to take the place of this one, while the shouts are louder and the pounding on the trail is closer. He has waited as long as possible; they’re almost above him, so leaning out farther, Emmett spreads his beloved coat over her.
Seconds later, they stand on the edge of the embankment, looking down at the coat. Below, Emmett manages to turn around and raise both hands, waiting for an arm-up. The boys grumble disappointedly; they expected to see a body. However, after arguing amongst themselves for a few moments, four of them reach down and help him scramble towards them through the slime. “Please go, go and find the police.” The boys haven’t taken their eyes off the coat and aren’t listening to him. Not at all. “Now! Tout de suit!” Emmett tries to sound official, as if giving an order and motions for the group to leave. They suggest, quite logically, that only a few need go for help, however Emmett needs time alone. Time to sort this out. But none of them will go. They won’t even turn away from the coat that covers her until he begins to shout. Eventually, as the boys start off on their mission, he hears each argue his theory of what happened.
Once they’re gone, Emmett gingerly removes the wet picture stuck to his chest and squeezes it between his fingers to press the water from the man’s face. The longer he looks at the image, the more he’s sure--if the police see this, they’ll assume I’m involved and in spite of the cold, Emmett is soaked from sweat.
He starts to tuck the photograph into his pants pocket, but stops. “No, it’ll get ruined,” he tells himself and pulls his wallet out, works the picture into one of the empty plastic sleeves and slides the billfold back into his pocket where the secret will be safe. What secret? He cannot figure out whyhe’s hiding the thing since it can’t be a picture of him. He’s never been here--at least not as an adult.
And who is she? Why is she here dressed like this? Was this some accident, or was she murdered? Did she commit suicide? Emmett’s mind races as he grips the wallet deep inside his pocket.
Now that the police are on their way, his instinct is to bolt, a sudden directionless alarm in his body. But he does not move, as if a combination of fear and bewilderment keeps him rooted to the ground. He stands focusing on the only uncovered parts of her-- the small feet, the ends of swirling hair and the delicate translucent hand that touched his shoe.
Damp air is beginning to work its way through his sweater as a heavier fog begins to envelop the scene. “I can’t leave you here alone,” he tells her under his breath. And as he waits, studying her hand, Emmett feels he is about to cry.
* * * * *
FOUR MONTHS EARLIER * NEW YORK CITY It was a warm Autumn day in Manhattan and the windows and doors to Emmett’s deck were open to catch the gentle breeze. On a lower balcony, a musician played the oboe, its plaintive tones obscuring the rumble of traffic far below.
He was working on the final phase of the Atlanta project and Fleet, his greyhound, lay sprawled beside the drafting table, when a thump sounded from the hallway. Fleet sprang to his feet and together they went to investigate.
There, on the smooth cherry floor lay a thick envelope just below the mail slot. As he walked back to the studio, Emmett felt the thickness of the package and ran his fingers over the French stamps. He hurried, anxious to see what Jonathan had sent, cleared off his second drafting table and cut the envelope open. When he tipped it on end, a stack of photographs sandwiched between two pieces of cardboard slid out. “Great.” Emmett resettled himself on the high stool, removed the rubber bands and began to examine the photographs taken by his former professor, Jonathan St. James. He and wife Elise had moved to France a year earlier and these were views of the area near their new home in Burgundy.
The sunny scenes were flawlessly composed, perfectly focused and on the reverse of each, in the professor’s precise hand was a description: the world famous vineyards, the names of five canals and twelve of the medieval buildings in Dijon. Every photograph was identified except one--number 37, a blurry view of a canal with what looked like a barge in the distance. There were no trees, bridges or buildings and the flat terrain could have been anywhere. The only point of interest was the professor’s long shadow. It darkened the ground from where Jonathan stood, to the edge of the embankment. There it stopped and disappeared into the water. Emmett assumed the professor hadn’t realized there was another frame and snapped it by mistake. And since Jonathan must have planned to throw it away, Emmett tossed it into his wastebasket.
He fanned the other thirty-six pictures across the drafting table and leaned forward to study them more carefully. The photographs were interesting, in fact beautiful, but it was that unidentified one that intrigued Emmett and he glanced into the trash bin every few minutes. “I can always throw it away later,” he murmured and fished it out. He set #37 aside, swung the large magnifier over and began to peer intently at each of the other pictures again. The fall colors of vineyards and orchards were dazzling and the canals sparkled in the bright sunlight.
It was not until Emmet began to study those twelve medieval structures in Dijon, that he noticed something unusual. With the magnifying glass, he was able to do what he did with floor plans he’d drawn--he could transport himself inside a building and walk through every room. However what was unusual about these pictures was that by simply seeing the exteriors of the buildings in Dijon, Emmett remembered their floor plans. “I know what’s inside every one of these places,” he told Fleet. “I must have been there!” And from that moment, his well-organized life began to change. Once Emmett was sure the orphanage, the medieval castle, was in Burgundy nothing would ever be the same.
He set about dividing Jonathan’s photographs into categories: Dijon’s buildings, the vineyards and the canals and then labeling envelopes for each group. The unidentified picture, #37, remained alone but after a few hours he tacked it to the bulletin board beside a snapshot of Jonathan and Elise.
In the days that followed, Emmett stopped to look at the photographs of Dijon’s ancient buildings several times each day and noticed almost immediately, that he was remembering them from a low angle. From a child’s perspective--an eye level at about 40 inches.
However after a week, he began to wonder if these images were becoming an obsession. They might, because they interfered with the most important part of his morning--that hour or two before daybreak.
For as long as he could remember, Emmett had awakened before dawn, lay perfectly still and waited for the unpredictable revelations, designs for either current work or something he might do in the future. The ideas simply appeared. He could not force or ask for special answers. When an inspiration came, he flipped on the light, wrote or drew the idea in a notebook and then went back to sleep. When he examined that notebook each morning, it was as if someone had come in the night and left a gift. He clarified the ideas while he drank his morning coffee, then filed each in its own folder.
Emmett’s life was governed by the assumption that the ideas would always be available. He depended on having at least one a day, and did, before he became intrigued by Dijon’s buildings.
He still awoke before dawn, but instead of lying motionless and allowing the inspirations to come, Emmett thought about those ancient places. He imagined walking through the rooms and examining every detail, and each day there were fewer ideas for him to file.
He wrote to the professor about his reaction to the photographs-----
I’m sure the orphanage, that castle I told you about, is somewhere along one of your canals. I recognize every building in Dijon. Unfortunately, I’ve been thinking about them so much that I’m not receiving my design ideas. I’ve added almost nothing to my notebook. Anyway, I’m eager to find the orphanage since it inspired me to go into architecture, so I plan to take a week off and will be in Burgundy in February. Hope that works for you. I’ll let you know the exact date before Christmas. Love, Em
The professor and Elise were overjoyed. For a year they’d been urging, almost begging, Emmett to visit. Now Jonathan sent charts of seven canals, together with a rare book on French architecture for Christmas and his note-----
My dear boy, why not simply stop looking at my bloody photographs! Chuck them out if that’s what it takes! I am certain your muse will return once you relax your mind. When you arrive we’ll search for your castle together, make an adventure of it! Elise has just finished painting the walls of your apartment, the entire upper floor of the priory. You’ll appreciate the hand-hewn posts, beams and flooring. A small balcony overlooks the village. Oh, and when I began the plumbing and dug through the foundation, I discovered the priory’s date, 1780!
In December, Emmett mailed his gifts to them together with a note-----
I can escape for one week in mid-February. Will that be convenient? I’m not as fixated on Dijon’s buildings now. I took your advice and threw the photos away (except for the blurry one with your shadow) but now I’m having trouble with some sort of strange dreams or flashes of memory. They are of a time when I was small and I think my mother is in them. I’ve never been able to remember anything about her, so I’ve always assumed I was born in the orphanage. Now I’m not so sure. Why would I have these dreams after all this time? Meanwhile, my notebook is completely blank. I’ve depended on those messages all my life. Now that they’re gone, I’m getting worried. REALLY WORRIED!
A few weeks passed. And even though he hadn’t received an answer, Emmett went ahead and booked the Air France ticket for Friday, February 14th. There was plenty of time to cancel if the timing didn’t work for Jonathan and Elise.
The reply came in mid-January. In the opening paragraph, without even a preamble, the St. James’ daughter wrote that her parents had been killed in an auto accident on New Year’s Eve. Emmett read and reread her letter in disbelief, barely able to breathe. He stared blindly at the phone and then dialed their home, listened to Jonathan’s answering machine, hung up and dialed again an hour later. Then again an hour later . . . .
"No! How . . . how?" he asked aloud. It was impossible to believe his dearest friend was gone. Jonathan had been his mentor and father figure for twelve years.
By the following morning, Emmett knew it was true. He was numb with grief.
After that terrible acceptance, he withdrew even further than usual from people: cancelling appointments and his kickboxing lessons, changing meetings to conference calls, ordering his meals brought up from local cafés and running with Fleet only when he would not be obliged to wave a greeting to anyone. How could he go to Burgundy? He could scarcely leave his apartment. Still, he was reluctant to cancel his plane tickets. Day after day they remained clipped to his desk lamp.
ONE MONTH LATER * Emmett hadn’t asked for a refund nor given the Air France tickets away. The envelope was still attached to his desk lamp.
During that time, he’d thrown himself into work, completing the final details of the Houston and Miami projects and nearly finishing the skywalk for Minneapolis. All three drafting tables were being utilized and everything was ahead of schedule. As he moved from one work area to another, Emmett felt as if the professor was there, looking over his shoulder. He even heard himself ask, “So, what do you think?” several times a day.
In spite of this vast production, he was increasingly worried each morning. He still woke before dawn, but was preoccupied with trying to analyze the flashes of what seemed more like memories than nightmares.
Every night the flashes were different--and added to the previous ones--like the song, The Twelve Days of Christmas. They always focused on a time when Emmett was very young, perhaps a toddler, and a woman was calling to him.
In many of the scenes, he was on wet wood, or holding onto a wooden railing, or pressed against a wooden wall while she called something he couldn’t understand. Then there were the painful physical sensations. He felt his head being cut, or his body being squeezed into a small place, or his feet being stung and his eyes hurting from looking into bright lights.
Each morning he awoke in a sweat and continued to feel the cuts and stings for several more minutes, as if they had really happened. The two constants, repeated every night, were the woman’s voice and the wood. He was sure these memories did not take place in the orphanage. That building was constructed entirely of stone.
Meanwhile, his inspirations were nonexistent. And as he prepared for bed on the night of the 13th--one day before the Air France flight--Emmett wondered if they would ever come back. As he closed the bedroom door and pressed the remote to lower the black shades, he asked whatever entity was controlling his mind for help, “Please . . . .you’ve got to tell me what’s going on,” he whispered and pulled the comforters over his chest. He lay there in the dark. Willing some kind of plot to emerge from the bits and pieces. Willing some answers to come.
The flashes started at about 4:00 a.m. and for the first time they began to form a story. Not a complete story, but at least something he could grasp. And it unfolded when Emmett was very small:
People were running and shouting loudly. A woman’s voice called, “Hide, baby. Don’t make a sound, stay in your hide-and-seek place!” Instantly, a small Emmett scrambled under a bed and crawled up behind a huge headboard, then squeezed onto the bed’s framework next to the wall. “Do not come out to me,” she called. “Stay wherever you are.” Footsteps ran through the house, upstairs and down. The bed shifted, forcing him more tightly against the splinters of the wooden wall. The voices were loud and close. “Do not let anyone find you! Please baby, keep very quiet,” she whispered. Her voice was right next to his hiding place. “Do not cry, please don’t . . .”
Emmett stayed very still, waiting for her to say more, but his underpants, pajamas and feet were wet and he was slipping from the wooden frame. He heard footsteps walk, pause and walk again. De hearoors creaked open and slammed, and when his toes could no longer cling to the wet wood, he slid down from his hiding place and lay curled in a puddle on the wooden floor. Someone in big shoes was standing next to Emmett’s face--and in spite of covering his mouth to keep it in--something oozed past his lips. But he didn’t make a sound. He stayed hidden next to the wall until he heard the floorboards squeak. Then he opened his eyes and saw those same shoes move away. He watched them go down the hall and through the front door. Outside, the rain looked like Christmas tinsel as it dripped off the roof. A dark figure was going down the outside stairs.
Emmett was alone. All he could hear was the pendulum swinging and the ticking of the big clock. He crawled out and made his way to the open door. Down the hill, a light was shining on the water. It was the place Emmett was never allowed to go, but since she wasn’t here, she must be there. So holding onto the icy railing, he felt his way along the slippery steps. Rain dripped from the trees and soaked through his pajamas; pine needles, sticks and rocks pressed into his feet. The bright stars and giant moon made it look almost like daytime and the falling raindrops sparkled as they came towards his upturned face. He was holding something to his chest and looking up at the moon when a dark figure covered it. Suddenly his upper arms were being shaken very hard. He squeezed his shoulders up tight and tried to pull his neck down so it wouldn’t hurt. Then suddenly he saw only the ground and those same shoes. Running. Sharp branches whipped and scratched the top of his head. When the shoes stopped, he was shaken violently once more. Then even angrier, the man yelled loudly into Emmett’s face, jerked him off his feet and dragged him up very tall, cold stone stairs. Dark cloth and black shoes were all he could see until time skipped.
Emmett was bigger. He was able to climb a high circular staircase by pulling himself along a thick rope. At the top, he pushed a heavy door open to the sunlight.
He climbed onto something, so he could see over a wide stone wall, worked his way to the edge and looked down. Flat boats moved on the water far below and he could see across the water to trees, hills and cows.
“Oh, Jesus!” Emmett’s eyes flew open and he knew. He’d been kidnapped. Taken from a place made of wood to a place made of stone. “Kidnapped!” he said aloud and propelled himself upright. “But did they murder her?” He wiped his face on the tangled sheet as he tried to remember the woman’s voice. The voice that called for him to hide. “She tried to save me!” And sweeping the down-comforters to the side, he slumped down to the floor and sat in the dark, trying to remember more. “Someone carried me to an orphanage, but what did they do with her?”
I’ve got to find the place! They’ll know why I was there, where I’d come from. He coughed deeply as he massaged his scalp, still feeling the scratches of the branches. And then, pulling a comforter down to the floor and wrapping it around his bare shoulders, Emmett stood and flipped on the lights and remote.
The black shades rose into the ceiling, uncovering six tall windows at the southwest corner of his bedroom. In an hour the sun would begin to brighten the sky, but in this half-light the Manhattan rooftops resembled a dark landscape.
Emmett normally sat beside the heavy glass, watching the changing colors, finalizing his inspirations and enjoying his coffee. Then he’d run with Fleet for an hour and have breakfast at one of the neighborhood cafes. But this day he forgot all that. Instead he rushed to his desk and pulled the envelope from the lamp. Air France #723, February 14th, 7:00 pm was written on the front. “That’s today! If I hurry, I can make it,” he said to himself.
From the arrival times noted on his agenda, Emmett would be in Paris by tomorrow morning and in Burgundy by tomorrow evening.
He trotted into the kitchen and called to Fleet, “We won’t have time for a run! Better go out on the deck and use your sandbox.”
He knew he’d barely have time to make the changes to three drawings, send memos, pack, make phone calls and find Jonathan’s charts of the canals. He leaned over the kitchen sink, and as the coffeemaker dripped, he made a list of each thing.
On his way to the studio, he passed the bulletin board filled with color-coded projects and kickboxing schedules. Emmett’s fingertips paused on the picture of Jonathan and Elise, the only photograph in his apartment.
“I’m sorry . . . I should have come sooner,” he whispered.
The snow that had blown against the deck windows during the night was melting and sliding into puddles on the ledge. Fleet looked out occasionally but stayed inside. The greyhound sensed that something was different and padded quietly behind Emmett, listening attentively to the man’s one-way conversation.
It was two o’clock when the changes and memorandums were finished. In his notes, Emmett mentioned nothing about leaving New York, let alone the country. “Those bastards would just try to stop me,” he muttered as he slid the drawings into the orange tubes and set them outside his front door. A courier would take the mailers to Emmett's architectural firm, Palmer and Burke. As he closed the door, he felt an increasing urgency to get on the plane, but an urgency mixed with a strange apprehension.
By three o’clock he’d made his phone calls and the specifications to contractors were ready to post. Emmett would drop Fleet at the kennel on his way to the airport, and as he snapped the warm red jacket around the greyhound, he tried to reassure him. “You’ll have a great time with your friends and I’ll be back before you know it.” Fleet remained unconvinced.
The skip-rope Jonathan had given Emmett when he began kickboxing hung by the door and he tucked it, together with the French scarf from Elise, into his carry-on. Then, at the last minute, he decided to pack his blank notebook and make an enlargement of photograph #37. It seemed irrational, but he wanted the picture of Jonathan’s shadow with him. As he folded it and slipped it into the ticket envelope, Emmett shivered. Why am I always so damned cold? he wondered, rubbing his arms.
“Maybe I’ll feel better with my favorite coat,” he told Fleet, and slid the long black alpaca from its hanger, slipped it on and was comfortable before he opened the door. As they stepped into the hall and he turned to insert the key into the lock, Emmett saw the orange tubes. They were still leaning against the wall. “Shit!” He rushed back to his desk phone to cancel the pickup order. “Now we’ll have to stop at the office on our way to your kennel,” he muttered.
He and Fleet walked close to the buildings as they made their way to the end of the block. At the corner, they stood side-by-side in the black slush and Emmett juggled the four tubes, the leash and the carry-on in order to hold one arm out. Three cabbies slowed, saw the dog and passed. Finally, reaching in front of a taxi’s windshield, “He’ll sit on the floor. I promise,” he called and jerked the door open. Fleet squeezed himself in and as promised, stayed on the floor with his head on Emmett’s shoe or knee as their cab wove through traffic headed toward the Palmer & Burke office.
At the curb in front of the firm’s headquarters, Emmett leaned forward. “Could you wait a moment. I want to avoid someone.” He watched through the windshield as Mr. Burke stepped into the taxi just ahead. After the senior partner’s cab pulled away, Emmett jogged across the concrete expanse to the lobby.
The office was decorated for Valentine’s Day and he slid the orange tubes up onto the marble counter among the candy and cards, dropped the mail in the 'out' bin, spun around and started to leave when the receptionist spotted him.
“Ahhhh, our hermit!” she teased. “Too bad, you just missed Mr. Burke. Oh, and don’t forget our Valentine's dance tonight!”
“Sorry, I . . ." Emmett pulled the heavy glass doors open, "I can’t.” He was through the doors without mentioning his flight. He wouldn’t have gone to their dance anyway.
At the kennel, Emmett reassured Fleet one more time--as only a rescued dog needs--that he would be back next Sunday and would pick him up on Monday morning.
* * * * *
Emmett has been standing with his feet at the edge of the embankment for thirty