Cooper slowly regains consciousness. It takes a minute, but he realizes that he is slumped in a heap on the floor of the third phone booth in the row of booths inside the old railway station, his phone card on the floor beside him. If he didn’t know better, he might believe that the incredible events of the past day -- which played like a low-budget sci-fi film -- had all been a figment of his imagination or the effects of way too many cervejas. But he does know better. His last memory is pretty much the reverse of what happened at the beginning of this whole thing.
At the end of the briefing, Minerva had escorted him back to the booth in which he’s arrived, pointed to a number taped to the inside wall, smiled saucily at him, and said, “Phone home, ET. I’ll see you soon.”
Funny lady. Not to mention sexy as all hell. Shit yeah. Coop looks forward to seeing her again.
He tries and fails to shift position and ease the cramping in his legs. He lifts his eyes just in time to meet the glare of a uniformed security guard who leans down to vigorously shake his shoulder, yelling at him to wake up.
“Senhor, senhor. Accorde-se.”
As Coop struggles to his feet, he is overwhelmed by the smell of cachaça and quickly realizes that the alcoholic stink is coming from him. No wonder the guard looks like he smells a skunk, he thinks. Since he hates the Brazilian liquor, he knows his Pantheon hosts must have doused him in it.
With all the courtesy to be accorded a drunk, the guard hauls Coop to the door and unceremoniously tosses him out onto the pavement of Avenida Francisco Bicalho, along with angry exhortations to never return again. Frowning in disapproval, pedestrians give him wide berth as he makes his way to the bus stop, staggering a bit as he fights his dizziness and the residual cramps in his legs. He wonders how long he was out cold in that phone booth.
After a very welcome shower, Cooper gathers up his reeking clothes and heads to the laundry room. He fishes through the pockets of his cargo shorts before stuffing everything into the washer, tossing his wallet, keys, coins, cell phone and a Bluebeard marlin lure on the counter. As he’s about to add the shorts to the clothes in the machine, he hears a crinkle from one of the pockets. He checks again, and pulls out the slip of paper he’d stuffed in his back pocket when Minerva handed it to him just before his “trip” home. Some trip. And all without the help of any pharmaceuticals. I’m going to have to look into that, he thinks.
While the washing machine does its work, Cooper grabs a Guarana Antarctica from the fridge, and flops down on the couch to look at whatever Minerva gave him before sending him on his way and review what he’d heard at the Pantheon.
Unfolding the slip of paper, Coop sees a single line.
LASCIATE OGNE SPERANZA, VOI CH’INTRATE.
Not even sure what language it is, let alone what it says, Coop shoves in the pocket of his jeans, making a mental note to look it up later. He means to plot a course of action toward finding this thing left behind by the priest, but his mind keeps drifting to Minerva. That is one damn fine woman. “I’ll see you soon,” she’d said. He wonders how soon.
He doesn’t get very far into his reverie before he is sound asleep. Sometime later, a bell pulls him back to the here and now. The washing machine, he thinks. He sits up, and sees that it’s almost dark outside his living room window. He can barely make out the beach below. A glance at his watch tells him he’s been sleeping a couple of hours. Exhausting business, all this Flash Gordon derring-do.
He heads toward the laundry room when the bell sounds again, this time a bit more insistently. Ah, the doorbell. Not the washing machine after all. He goes to the door and looks through the peephole to see Minerva standing in the hall outside.
|Minerva by Auguste Rodin|
Grinning, he pulls open the door and says, “Hi. What phone booth did you pop out of, Minnie?”
Minerva is wearing civvies, and may just be the best looking woman Coop has ever seen. Out of uniform, with her thick brunette hair free of the severe bun she's been wearing every time he's seen her, she looks much more approachable.
“Phone booth? Whatever are you talking about?” she asks, widening her dark brown eyes disingenuously. “I just came from the airport. And don’t call me Minnie. My name is Amanda.”
She smiles at him and walks into the apartment. As she passes him, Coop admires the way her khaki slacks and Oxford shirt compliment her curves.
“I’m glad to find you smelling better than the last time I saw you. You’ve really got to lay off the hootch.”
“Yeah, thanks very much for that,” Coop answers. “I’m lucky I didn’t wake up in the drunk tank instead of the train station.”
After dropping her bags just inside the door, Amanda heads across the room to the French doors leading to the balcony. She pulls them open and steps out into the soft Brazilian dusk.
“Nice place you’ve got here. Is that the famous Ipanema Beach down there?” she asks.
“Nope. That neighborhood’s a bit too rich for my blood,” Coop answers. “That’s Copacabana Beach. On any given Sunday, half the families in Rio are down there.”
“Gorgeous. Now go pack. And bring a jacket; it’s apt to be cold. We’re going to Paris.”
It’s about 10PM when Amanda and Cooper settle into their comfortable seats for the 14-hour flight to Charles de Gaulle airport.
“First class. I gotta tell you, Minnie, I much prefer this mode of travel to the last one.” Coop takes a sip of the champagne the flight attendant has just handed him.
Without turning from the window, where she is looking out as Rio drops below them, she replies, “Yeah, but you’ve got to admit, that was much faster.”
“I suppose, but I wouldn’t really know. I was out, remember? One of these days, you have to tell me how you guys did that.”
She turns to look at him. “Well, I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you, and just as I was beginning to find you rather charming, despite your rough edges.” She grins and turns back to the window.
“Rio looks magnificent from up here, like someone scattered a bunch of diamonds on a velvet cloth,” she says. “I can see why you chose to live here.”
She turns back to Cooper, all business now, and says, “OK, let’s get to it. I have a lot to tell you and then I think we should both get a little sleep. It’s been a long day, and one of us didn’t have a nap.
Amanda yawns widely, and Coop is totally charmed.
“Do you have that slip of paper I gave you?” she asks.
Cooper pulls the paper from the pocket of his jeans. “I’ve got it, but I didn’t have a chance to look it up. What is it?”
“Are you familiar with Dante?” Amanda asks.
“Sure, The Inferno, the nine levels of Hell, all that.” Coop asks.
“Right. The quote I gave you, which is Latin, by the way, is the inscription that Dante sees over the entry to Hell in The Inferno. It roughly translates to ‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”
“Ah, Latin,” Coop says. “That would explain why I couldn’t translate it. I had a suspicion hope was involved somehow. Hope in Portuguese is esperança.”
Amanda nods. “Yes, pretty similar. It’s that romance languages thing. They all come from Latin somehow.”
“But what does this saying have to do with the priest and his vision?” Coop asks.
“Well, this is a bit convoluted, and I may be totally off base,” Amanda says. “As I mentioned back at the Pantheon, I’ve been beating the bushes looking for leads on this one for a long time. I think I may be on to something. If I’m right, the place to start is Paris. If we’re lucky, it may also be the place the search will end. On the other hand, I may be taking us down absolutely the wrong path. I’m no Hall Cooper, you know. I’m hoping you can help me pull it all together.”
Coop pulls his best humble face. “Aw, shucks, ma’am. You’ll turn my head.”
The flight attendant appears with two dinner trays and more champagne. Cooper looks down at the filet he’s ordered, and smiles. “Now that’s what I’m talking about. This is the way to travel.” He picks up his knife and fork, and attacks his steak.
“So what’s your thinking on this? What’ve you got?”
Amanda takes a bite of the grouper on her plate but quickly puts down the fork and picks up her champagne glass instead.
She takes a deep breath, and begins laying out her premise.
“Our priest, the one who sees things, was a family friend of the sculptor Rodin.”
“The guy who did The Thinker, right?”
“Yes. From what I’ve been able to discover, Rodin had a bit of a breakdown after his older sister died unexpectedly of peritonitis in a convent. I think Rodin was about 22 at the time, and hadn’t really done any important pieces yet. He was working as a tradesman, doing decorative pieces for other scuptors. When his sister died, he decided to devote himself to God in her stead, and joined a Catholic order as a lay brother. Guess who ran the order?”
“I’m guessing that would be our guy.”
“And you would be right.” Amanda nods. “Rodin didn’t stay at the monastery long, but long enough, I think.”
“So you think the priest gave whatever it is to Rodin?”
“Where does Dante come into this?” Cooper finishes the last bite of this steak. “Hey, Minnie, you going to finish that?” he asks, indicating the nearly untouched fish on Amanda’s palate.
Handing over her plate, Amanda goes on. “From I could learn, it seems to me that Rodin and the priest shared a common interest. Both were somewhat obsessed with Dante’s Divine Comedy. Given its subject matter, Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell, it’s easy to see why a Catholic priest might be drawn to studying the poem, but Rodin? Though I found several references to the fact that Rodin carried a copy of the Inferno in his pocket, it doesn’t appear in his work until after he spent that time at the monastery. But then…”
The flight attendant cleared away the dishes, and left Amanda and Cooper blankets, pillows, and eyeshades.
“So you think…what? It's a pretty big leap, Minnie.”
“It’s worth looking into. We’re going to Paris to visit the Rodin Museum and take a look at his work, up close and personal. But for now, Mr. Cooper, I think we should get some rest. We’ll have a little time before we land. I’ll tell you the rest then. Good night.”
Amanda turns off the light and pushes her seat back. She pulls on the eyeshade and snuggles in under the blanket.
Cooper’s nap earlier in the day hadn’t begun to do the job, so he’s happy to call it a night. Before he can say good night, from under the blanket next to him come Amanda’s final words.
“And don’t call me Minnie.”