Retribution: Chapter 15

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One evening in the beginning of August, Augustin took a walk in the Jardin du Luxembourg. The weather was very hot and he went over to a basin to drizzle cupped handfuls of water on his head.

To further escape the heat, Augustin went to a nearby movie theater because it was air conditioned. Standing in the lobby, he noticed three girls, Marianne, Manon, and Anna, come in and buy tickets for 42nd Street and the popcorn and cokes.

Marianne was wearing the dress he had given her and looked as sweet and pure as a girl could look in a stolen dress. Manon and Anna were admiring the dress and asking where she got it.

“It was a gift” she said

“From who?” Manon asked

“I don’t know but I have my suspicions. I think this dress is an early name day present”

Marianne noticed Augustin there and gave him a smile which radiated the features of her face and made him feel as though there was no one else in the world she had wanted to see more. A gentler creature never seemed happier to be alive.

She did not suspect that he had been the one who had sent her the dress but instead believed that it was a gift from some unknown benefactor. What if she did know he had stolen it for her? She certainly would not look at him the way she did then.

Manon and Anna also noticed Augustin was there and began to tease Marianne as they walked into their movie.

Sneaking in with a crowd of people going in to see King Kong, Augustin bumped into an acquaintance of his.

“Anton” he whispered

“Lerou” Anton-le-Basque whispered back.

“What have you been up to?”

“Not much”

“It’s too bad about Friquet. I heard about him from his daughter.”

“Yes, it’s too bad.”

Augustin smiled a little bit to himself because Friquet had it coming.

“Did you hear about that clothing shop on Saint Germain that was robbed. Someone threw a rock at the window and climbed in through and took a suit and a dress.”

“No I didn’t.”

Obviously he was lying and Anton’s catlike smile showed that he knew it. Little was secret in the circles they ran in.

“Do you think I’m simple or something? A suit is stolen from a shop and voila my old friend Augustin is wearing a new suit. And a little blonde I saw in the lobby was wearing a dress like one that was stolen from said shop. Is she a girlfriend of yours?”

Augustin was hesitant to answer. He did not want someone like Anton le Basque knowing about her.

“You certainly have good taste and not just in clothes I mean”

The two young men took their seats in the theater and the newsreel began to run. More crime, more dust storms, more breadlines, more political squabbles. It seemed like the world was getting worse and people were getting stupider or crazier or some combination of both. One did not have to be cynic to feel some lack of hope for the future. A Bettie Boop cartoon then lightened the mood before the picture started.

“Listen” Anton whispered under the opening strains of the movie’s score “have you heard of a type called Faucherie?”

“No” Augustin answered

“He’s a lucky bastard. It’s said that he’s the lover of Mademoiselle Helene”

“Yeah, what about him?”

“He’s said he’s getting a gang together to do a job”

“What’s the job?”

“A jewelry shop near Place Saint Sulpice”

“What are you telling me this for?”

“I thought you might want in”

“That’s a little beyond my level”

“Don’t act so innocent. Listen, everybody’s going to get a cut and you can even take something for that little blonde of yours.”

It was this reference to Marianne that tempted him. An image of him putting a string of diamonds around her neck came to his mind.

But it was also this image of Marianne that told him “don’t do it”.

He had been told that there were two types of dangerous women: the kind that made good men want to be bad and the kind that made bad men want to be good. Marianne was dangerous because she was the latter. He could almost hear her voicing saying to him “swear, swear on whatever it is you hold sacred that you won’t do it.”

But another voice, a soft, secret voice, said “Do this one job. One and that’ll be it”. He could not tell if that other voice was Anton-le-Basque whispering into his ear or the proverbial devil he knew sitting on his shoulder.

The siren song of salvation was as frightening as it was attractive. It’s calm, level headed tone spoke of putting the nonsense of the past behind him and being good. He wanted to be good if not for his own sake then for Marianne’s sake but being good was the devil you did not know.

When the movie ended, he and Anton le Basque walked out together.

“So what’s it going to be?” Anton asked him “In or out”.

“I swear” Augustin thought to himself “I swear on whatever it is I hold sacred. One job and that’s it”

Several days prior, Charles Prideaux’s Ford pulled into a small Norman town around lunchtime.

The Norman town was an hour and a half drive away from Paris through the countryside along the Seine. It was almost too picturesque to be real. Buildings of ivy covered stone and stucco with shingle roofs and shutters along with rose bushes and hollyhocks lined narrow winding streets which all converged on the center of town where a thirteenth century church stood. Charles’s Ford followed these streets towards the edge of town to one of it’s largest houses.

This house was a charming pink stucco with large windows and green shutters. It was encroached upon by a large flower garden, more like a riot of blooms in every shape, size, and color which the multitude of arbors did little to stop the advance of.

The Ford pulled into the garage and everyone inside it stepped out. A pleasant looking couple in late middle age were waiting for them by the front door.

Jules was the first to greet them.

“Hello Maman” he said to the woman as he embraced her “hello Papa” he shook the man’s hand.

Mère Martin was kissed on the cheek by her daughters Charlotte and Adèle and embraced by her sons in law Charles and Alexandre. Charlotte and Adèle embraced Père Martin, who Charles and Alexandre then shook hands with.

“You’re just in time” Mère Martin said “lunch is almost ready.”

Père Martin picked up Charlotte’s little daughters, kissed them on their pretty heads, and carried them inside.

The inside of the Martin house was charming. The rooms were cozy but airy and done up in bright, cheerful, pastel colors and old furniture. Spread throughout the rooms were Père Martin’s collection of Japanese prints and Mère Martin’s collection of Chinese porcelain. Lunch was set up in the dining room which was done up in shades of yellow and consisted of mackerel in a mustard sauce served with mashed potatoes. To drink, they were given cider from a nearby orchard. The label said “Chateau Aubrey”.

“Chateau Aubrey, is that the white sixteenth century mansion with the turrets not too far from here” Charles asked Adèle

“That’s the one” Adèle answered

“There’s some rich American woman trying to buy the place from the Academy of Architecture” Pere Martin added “It belonged to a very old family that used to live around here. When the last owner died, his family couldn’t afford the upkeep of such a place, so they left it to the Academy to meet the fate of other such buildings, to be bought by a rich foreigner.”

“It’s a shame.” Mère Martin joined in.

After the mackerel, there was an apple tart and coffee for dessert. When the coffee was finished and the cups were still warm, a shot of calvados was added.

Charlotte offered to help Mère Martin with the dishes. Jules took Aimée and Desirée out into the garden to play tag and Alexandre and Père Martin retired to the living room for cigars.  Adèle took Charles to see the lily pond that was nearby.

The lily pond was at the end of a lazy, willow tree shaded stream. It’s best vantage point was the wooden bridge at one end which earlier in the season had been laden with wisteria. Beyond the trees, one could see fields with large bales of hay, pastures with cows grazing in them, and roads lined with hedgerows and wild flowers.

“Isn’t this lovely?” Adèle asked him “it was my favorite place to play when I was little”  

“Lovely” Charles answered.

Charles had seen something of the carefree world his wife had grown up in and how much it contrasted with his own childhood on the streets of New York.

“We should get back to the house. We still have over a hour until we get to Deauville and we have to check into the hotel by 4:00”

They walked back to the house and joined the rest of their party and said goodbye to Mère and Père Martin.

“It’s so hot” Charlotte said. She took a white hand fan out of her handbag and began to fan herself “I can’t wait to take a dip in the pool”

The weeks of August passed as usual for Marianne. Days which consisted of getting up early and coming home late, and trying to smile though she her mind and body were tired. As usual, she went with Tante Mimi to church one Sunday. On there way to Saint Sulpice, they passed a shop window with a mannequin wearing a wedding dress. Marianne stopped in her tracks to admire it.

It was made of cream colored silk and lace and ruffles and had long trumpet sleeves and a long train. The mannequin wore a delicate lace veil held in place with ivory pins shaped like roses. The entire outfit looked like something a fairy tale princess would wear.

“Beautiful” Tante Mimi said when she looked at it.  

They continued on there way to Saint Sulpice. They were a bit early; the previous mass had not yet come out. So they waited out in Place Saint Sulpice. Marianne went to stand by the fountain while her aunt went to talk with an acquaintance of hers. She sat down on the rim of the fountain’s basin.

A group of churchgoers had set up stations in Place Saint Sulpice from where they handed out soup and sandwiches to throngs of poor people who were descending upon them: grim faced men, haggard women, and scrawny children. Demand quickly overran supply and these poor people scrambled to get what they could before it disappeared. The weather was warm and humid and the main issue was thirst rather than hunger but some enterprising individuals among the ranks of the poor solved this problem by selling glasses of water and citron presse on street corners to thirsty passers by who were eager spend their sous. One man had a cart from which he sold vanilla ice cream.

Among this crowd around Saint Sulpice was Augustin who had been in the area and having noticed a familiar black dress and white hat with a purple ribbon followed it.

“I can’t stay long” Marianne said to him when they found each other.”I’m going into mass soon and Tante Mimi is expecting me.”

He grabbed her around the waist and kissed her.

“what are you doing?”

“Giving you something to be penitent about” he says “my beautiful, pious lady”

Marianne blushed and smiled and pushed him away when she saw Tante Mimi coming.

Inside the church, she took her seat next to her aunt in one of the chapels. While they were waiting for mass to begin, Marianne asked Mimi why Tante Catharine had originally wanted her to be a nun.

“I think she was just trying to protect you” Mimi said “Your Tante Catharine means well and only wants what’s best for you”

Marianne believed that because of Mathilde’s transgressions, her aunts expected her to be doubly pure. A nun in family made up for a slut.

The opening music began to play and Mimi and Marianne stood up to sing the words Jubilate Deo! Cantate Domino!”. Marianne understood that they words meant something like “sing to God! sing praises to the Lord!”. She knew a few words and phrases in latin which she had picked up during her convent days. What she liked about mass was the beautiful music that was played. She also liked to listen for pretty verses from the bible. The readings that day were about helping the poor such as Luke 3:11 “ And he would answer and say to them, “The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise.” Then there was a sermon about how though times were hard, you must not turn away from Christ because in times like these Christ makes his presence known. This elicited eye rolls from the family who was elbows deep in debt,  the man whose business went bust, and the mother who could barely afford to feed her children since her husband left the family.

After communion, they kneeled in front of their seats in prayer. Marianne enjoyed this part of mass because it was peaceful and quiet and she could be alone with her thoughts.

Augustin had left Saint Sulpice and went back the way he had come and passed by the shop where the mannequin wearing the beautiful wedding dress stood in the window. Kissing Marianne had made him feel bold and reckless.

How silly she acted around her Tante Mimi. Tante Mimi looked younger and more beautiful than the somewhat fuddy-duddy maiden aunt Marianne had described. He liked her and hoped she would like him if she knew him.

Augustin had come to this part of town to meet with Anton-le-Basque who he found waiting for him in a nearby alley and giving him his characteristic cat like smile. By him stood the voluptuous figure of a beautiful girl with rippling dark hair which contrasted dramatically with her white skin and deep blue eyes.

“I’m Hélène” she said smiling a frank smile “I’m a what you call it… an emissary for Monsieur Faucherie”

Augustin had been stopped in his tracks; Hélène was even more blindingly beautiful up close. She had bold features enhanced and exaggerated by makeup, an aquiline nose and a soft, sensual mouth.  There was something cynical and haughty but nonetheless enchanting in her expression. And her speaking voice rivaled even her singing voice for it’s siren quality. The innocent golden haired prettiness of Marianne was seen and admired but Hélène’s dark beauty was seen and never forgotten.

But then it struck him as odd that this Faucherie character had sent his mistress in his stead. Anton did not question it, Faucherie knew what he was doing.

“Hélène, this is my friend Augustin Lerou” Anton told the beautiful emissary.

“Pleased to meet you, Monsieur Lerou” Hélène said

“The pleasure is all mine, Mademoiselle” Augustin answered.

“I like that suit of yours. I remember seeing a tie like that in shop once.” Hélène gave Anton-le-Basque a knowing look which told that he had already briefed her about the affair of the clothing shop. “All it needs is a nice tie clip”

Hélène briefed the two young men on Faucherie’s plans for the hiest. Augustin could not take his eyes off of her. She had utterly charmed him and he would do whatever she, or Faucherie, told him to do.

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