I never planned to talk about fruit.  

I was going to speak of romance, feats of derring-do, 
having discovered a very cool guy with a story 
to tell.  But try as I might, he just stood there, 
never swashing his buckle, just mute and smirking, 
thumbs hooked in his belt.  OK, so screw ‘im. 
I’ll tell you instead about fruit. OK, not all fruit, 
just peaches and pears. Peaches are lovely, yes,
but they’re so obvious, you know?  Now, pears?  
Pears are mysterious.  I’m intrigued by pears.  
I really want to like pears, but they’re always so 
stand-offish, unknowable, teasing with hidden potential 
that they never deliver.

I guess I must be a glutton for punishment, silly me,
because I keep giving pears another chance.
One day, as I searched yet again for the perfect one,
I found this lone peach hanging out with the pears. 
The peach sat there shyly, listing slightly to the left,
a little off-kilter, fuzzy cheeks blushing beneath my gaze.
The eager peach looked completely out of place
among the arrogant indifferent pears.  Choose me,
it seemed to whisper, sweetness riding on its breath.

I’ve always been a sucker for strays, so it should be
no surprise that it was the peach I took home.   
I might speak here of its warmth and the softness 
of its skin, the slight give of the flesh under my touch, 
the lushness beneath the blush, and the incredibly sweet 
juice that...  sigh.   But I won't.  That would be unseemly.


This was written for One Shot Wednesday.


Just Desserts?

As Marsha answered the doorbell, that song from West Side Story ran through her mind, “Something's coming, come on in…

Life with John had been horrible, but she was finally rid of him. Now, Marsha had the feeling that something really exciting was coming. 

The cop at the door said, “Marsha Smith?  You’re under arrest.”

This was written for Mr. Knowitall's Friday Flash 55.  It's a continuation of a story posted last week, Rump Roast, Well Done.


Liar Liar


This was created for the Tenth Daughter Of Memory.


1912 - Anthem of the Promised Land

“Only in America
Dreaming in red, white and blue
Only in America
Where we dream as big as we want to
We all get a chance
Everybody gets to dance
Only in America”

Except maybe…
The un-"equal," the unemployed,
The homeless, the under-fed,
And anyone whose face is
Black, brown, yellow or red.


This is my entry for Friday Flash 55, hosted by the inimitable Mr. Knowitall,


The Honest-to-God Truth

I’m going to be late, I think, as I stand in the hotel bathroom dabbing cover-up onto my face.  I don’t like what I see in the mirror.  Another sleepless night has added its footprints to the tracks of exhaustion and tears that already etch my face. I’ve got to put aside the guilt and go on, I know, but it’s not easy.  I am, as they say, wracked with it.  I should have said something. 

Do advance warnings actually serve any purpose other than to raise one’s anxiety to a fever pitch?  Does knowing that the storm is brewing help you stay dry?  If you had known where the tornado would hit, could you have jumped aside?  Probably not.  



Back in college, Linda was always gullible.  Every Tom, Dick and Isn’t-He-Gorgeous-Harry who came along and showered her with compliments was The One.  When they all proved to be nothing more than yet another horny frat boy looking to score with the prettiest girl on campus, she was devastated.  I’d tried to warn her, but such a warning coming from the plain Jane sharing her dorm room was suspect, even in my eyes.  And were I honest, I’d have to admit that I was jealous of the way she drew the best from Alpha to Omega like flies to honey.  But watching her self-esteem being chipped away by every guy who took advantage of her was hard.

When she met Matt senior year, Linda just knew.  He was The One.  I was pretty sure he was just another one, but right after graduation, they married.  

You like him, don’t you?” Linda had asked when she told me she wanted me to be her Maid of Honor.  "Tell me the honest-to-God truth."

“Of course I do,” I lied.  "Matt’s a great guy.”

So I stood at her side holding her bouquet, looking on as Linda said “I do” and smiling through the requisite wedding tears.  They both looked so happy.  I couldn’t help but wonder if my misgivings had been just another manifestation of my jealousy.

And then life went on.  I went to New York, and Linda and Matt stayed in Miami where he had joined a law firm.  I was eager to start my career in publishing, and Linda was eager to start a family.  I did very well, while Linda was not as successful.  Her relationship with Matt seemed fine, but after several years of marriage, all attempts to have children had failed.

Seven years ago, I flew down to Miami one Friday morning to visit Linda for a long weekend.  Matt was away at a convention and she seemed really depressed.  I hoped I could cheer her up a bit, and maybe encourage her to consider adoption.  Most of the people I knew who decided to adopt had no sooner signed the papers than they were pregnant.  We talked, cried, drank about a case of pinot, and talked some more.  But at the end of the long weekend, I’d not been able to advance the idea of adoption.  Matt, it seemed, wanted only a child of his own making.

Matt got home Sunday afternoon.  He dropped his bags and came out to the lanai where Linda and I were lounging by the pool in swimsuits.  He took one look at me and gave a long whistle of approval. 

“Wow, the big city certainly agrees with you.”  

I guess I should have been flattered, but in truth, I was a bit insulted.  I knew I looked more polished than I’d ever been able to pull off in college, but I also knew that was just a by-product of the confidence I’d gained while climbing the corporate ladder in one of the most cut-throat industries in New York.  I was still me.

We had dinner at a popular local restaurant, where Matt was apparently a regular, judging by the number of drinks sent over by his fans.  Once back at the house, I said goodnight, pleading an early flight.  It was a beautiful tropical night, so I opened the sliding door to the lanai and climbed into bed.  The several drinks I’d had at dinner worked their magic and I was soon fast asleep.

Sometime in the night, I was jolted awake when the sheet over me was suddenly yanked back, and I looked up to see a dark shape standing over me, silhouetted against the moonlit sky beyond the open door.  I opened my mouth to scream, but didn’t get a sound out before a hand clamped over my mouth.  I quickly realized that the man I’d first taken to be an intruder was Matt, reeking of alcohol.  I struggled, but he was just too strong; I was no match for him as he raped me.  Every woman thinks about rape, wondering how she would get through it were it to happen to her.  What I never realized was how little time it would take to be so totally violated.  It seemed to me that no sooner had the sheet been pulled back and his hand clamped over my mouth than he was climbing off me and heading for the door.  As he left, he hissed, “Don’t you say a word.”

No, I never said a word.  Not that night, and not in the years since.  I never said a word, even when Linda told me Matt had taken off for San Francisco with his secretary to “open a bread store in the Haight.”  And I never said a word when he came back six months later, begging her to take him back.  Worst of all, I never said a word when she agreed to give him another chance, telling me, “But if he ever does something like this again, I’ll kill him.”


Oh, yes, I am consumed with guilt, not about Matt’s death, but because Linda took her own life after she killed him.

In the mirror, I see my six-year-old daughter standing in the bathroom doorway behind me.

“The babysitter’s here, Mommy.”

“Thanks, honey.  I won’t be too long.  I promise to come back to the hotel right after the funeral.”

I wipe my face, kiss my daughter, and leave to say goodbye to my best friend.  And to tell her the truth, at last.

“I’m so sorry, Linda.  And that’s the honest-to-God truth.”


Written for the Tenth Daughter of Memory 


Gone Fishin' at Ebbets Field

A couple of friends’ recent musings (you know who you are)
Reminded me of  the happiest day I ever spent with you.
“Come on, kid. Let’s go fishin’.  It’s the opening game.”
That’s what you said when you picked me up
At school just after noon on that nice October day.

We drove to the coast, and went out on the pier, and
With a twist of the radio dial, we were at Ebbets Field.
Dropping hooks in the water, we lined up at the rail:
A bunch of old men, Vin Scully, you and me,
A tom-boyish girl in dirty Keds and torn dungarees.

“Play ball!”  And they did, your Trolley Dodgers
And the Bombers; you know who I mean.
We didn’t know it then, but it was close to the end.
We won that day, but lost 4-3 with the last.  Maybe
That’s why they turned tail and headed for LA land.

We listened to the play-by-play that day, with names
That would one day be legend:  Mantle and Ford,
Robinson, Hodges and Berra.  And I caught a big fish,
With the old men all cheering and you smiling proudly.
“That’s my girl,” you said.  “A chip off the old block.”.

I wish I had known it would be the last time.  There were
No more World Series for the Bombers and your boys.
They betrayed you and you never forgave them.
And there were no more fishing trips for you and your girl.
Your new girl hated fishing; this girl found boys of her own.

But today I remembered, as I do every year when
The new boys of summer take up bats and fans cheer.
That was the best day I ever had with my dad,
And looking back, I'm really glad that you wanted to share
Your boys, the Bombers and fishing on that wooden pier.

This is my entry at One Shot Wednesday.


Rump Roast, Well-Done

John and Marsha sit side-by-side on one side of the booth in the dark, paneled dining room of the new steak house, studying the menu.  When John scootches closer to her, Marsha is charmed.  Maybe the candlelight is working its magic.

It’s their anniversary.  Things have been a bit rocky in the marriage lately, at least for Marsha.  She suspects John hasn’t noticed any difference.  And that’s been the problem.  Not only is he not as romantic with her as he was in the beginning, it seems like the only time he actually sees her is when she’s the butt of one of his practical jokes.  She’s about reached the end of her patience, and has decided it’s time to take action.  This anniversary dinner is step one in her campaign to bring back the passion.  She’d really wanted to go to the romantic little bistro downtown, but, hey, marriage is a compromise, right?  She’s willing to give a little.

“20-ounce porterhouse, baked potato with the works, creamed spinach and the wedge salad with blue cheese dressing and bacon for me.  What’re you having?” John asks as he closes the menu.

Easy for him to say, Marsha thinks.  He hasn’t gained an ounce since our wedding ten years ago

“I can’t decide,” she replies.  “Everything is so fattening.  Did you see that baked potato the waiter just delivered to the next table?  It looks like a football.”

John pauses the process of slathering butter on the dinner roll he’d holding and looks at her, eyebrows raised.  “So? You’ve got a good appetite.” 

“But the calories…  You know everything goes right to my hips.”

“”Ohn nee ilyu okgrt,” he mumbles around the mass of roll he’s just stuffed into his mouth.

What?  Did you just say I really need to lose weight?  What’re you telling me? That I’m fat?” Marsha demands.  So much for the romance.

John laughs.  “No, of course not. What I said was, ‘Don’t be silly. I think you look great’.”

At that moment, John dramatically slides off the edge of the booth and lands on the floor with a thump.

That’s it.  Marsha leans over to help him up and back into the booth, where he slides onto her steak knife up to its hilt.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought you said.”

This was written for the Tenth Daughter of Memory.


Junior Superhero

She saw her mother hit by cancer at 33

Watched as she fought back and won

And learned what it takes to be a superhero.

Today they fight for the cure side by side.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

This bit of bragging is done for Sunday 160, hosted by Monkey Man.


The Other "Woman"

I remember the day I first met you, when Daddy
Brought you to my mother’s house, all dressed in red.
"Always wanted a daughter, call me Mommy," you said,
Just barely three months since my mother was dead.
I’d have called you "Bitch" if I’d known that word,
But I didn’t, so all I could call you was all that I had.

You pushed me away from the start, and called me
names, like Lazy and Stupid and Always-in-the-Way.
I might have known why if I were older than nine,
But all I knew was that no matter how hard I tried,
I never measured up to the daughter you never had.
I couldn't be her because, just look, I was just bad.

Five years into it, one night you screamed that you'd had it.
You cleaned out your closets and packed up your bags.
Shouting harsh words, you stormed out with all of your stuff.
The truck came two days later and took all of ours.
You left us two beds and a television, two lawn
Chairs, two tray tables, our place to eat dinner at night.

Couple weeks later, the sheriff came to our house.
I was home alone after school, and I opened the door.
“Your daddy here, girl?” he asked me, puffing his chest out.
“No, sir.” He’s at work until six.”  He gave me some papers.
“Tell your daddy he’s been served."  He barked loudly.
"Now don’t you forget.  You hear me, girl?”

Back then, all I knew was that you were divorcing us,
Me and my daddy, and somehow it was all my fault.
You actually said so in the papers you filed. 
 “Cruel and unusual,” you called me, “a terrible child.
No marriage could work with her in the house."  
Back then, all I knew was that somehow I'd failed.  

Today I know better, now that I'm grown.
Today I know I was OK; it was you who was
Lacking in most everything but jealousy of a child.
My only sin was being that other woman, daughter.
And today I know. Oh, yes, I sure do.
Today I know exactly what I should call you.



Written for One Shot Wednesday.

Neptune's Payback - Part 5

This is a continuation of:
Neptune's Payback - Part 5

As he walks across Saint Peter’s Square, Cooper thinks back to the chain of incredible events that lead up to his return to the Vatican.  

He and Amanda had flown to DC when they left Paris, carrying a flash drive with pictures of their trip like every other tourist.  After a meeting with Virtus, Mars and Vulcan in the bar of the Hay Adams Hotel (which he and Amanda had actually walked into like normal people rather than using the sci-fi transporter he'd used on his last trip to visit them), Coop flew home to Rio.  Alone.

He hadn’t heard from Amanda again.  But after a charter one afternoon three weeks later, he opened his apartment door to the distinct scent of her perfume.

“Minnie?”  Walking through his few rooms, it didn’t take long for the surge of excitement he’d felt to fade.  He was alone.  Huh, he’d thought at the time, first time I’ve had an olfactory hallucination.

He’d grabbed a beer from the fridge, picked up the International Herald Tribune he’d purchased on the way home, and went to the couch.  As he leaned over to set his beer on the coffee table, he’d discovered a large manila envelope lying dead center. Inside, he’d found a first class ticket to Rome, the sealed envelope he just gave to the Swiss Guard, and a note from Amanda.

When he opened the note, a newspaper clipping had fallen out.  He’d set it aside for the moment and read the note.

Dear Coop,

      You done good, Mr. Cooper.  We turned over the pictures that you and I took during our little adventure to the Vatican.  Seems that bust is just what they were looking for.

      Apparently, the Pope is extremely grateful.  He wants to see you.  Your ticket to Rome is enclosed.  When you get to the Vatican, just give the sealed envelope, also enclosed, to the Swiss Guards.

      I've also enclosed a newspaper clipping I'm sure you'll find interesting.  Terrible what the world is coming to, isn't it?

      Virtus, Vulcan and Mars send regards.


P.S.  Oh, forgot to mention...  You've been granted a full pardon for you past indiscretions.  You're free to return to the US, should you ever decide to leave paradise.

He laid the note on the coffee table, picked up the clipping, and read the article.   

In the most startling art heist in history, every copy of a Rodin bust of an obscure cleric has been stolen from all the museums worldwide in which it was displayed, including the Musée Rodin, home to the original.  Authorities are baffled, saying they don’t have any leads to the perpetrators of this brazen and well-orchestrated crime.


Now, Cooper can’t help but remember that last time he was here at the Vatican.  He looks around, half expecting a bunch of the gendarmerie to swarm him, but no one is paying him the slightest bit of attention.  Hmmm, maybe I can go get my ring after this audience is over, he thinks.

As instructed in a note written on the outside of the sealed envelope, Coop walks past the water fountain on the right and up to the Swiss Guards standing outside large bronze doors on the far end of the left colonnade.  He presents the sealed envelope to one of the guards. 

“Per favore seguirmi, il signore.”  Please follow me.  The guard leads Cooper through the doors and down several hallways, each more ornately decorated than the last.  They go through several unmarked doors, and as they pass though a set of gilded doors at the end of all long hallway, the guard says, “Palazzo Apostolico.”

Coop is handed over at that point to a guy in the robes of a priest or cardinal – Coop doesn’t know – who takes him upstairs and to a doorway.  He pauses, says, “His Holiness will see you now,” and opens the door.

Inside, seated in a somewhat ornate chair, but not the throne Coop was expecting, is the Pope.  Coop walks over, reminding himself that his instructions told him to genuflect.

“Welcome, Mr. Cooper,” the Pope says accented English as Cooper stands again.  “I’m very glad you could make it.  I wanted to thank you myself for the great service you have given the world.  You may have well prevented a collapse of not only the Church, but all of society as well.”

Coop murmurs an acknowledgment, wondering what the hell that scroll on the bust said.

The Pope holds out his closed had toward Cooper and says, a smile on his face, “in gratitude, I want to give you this.  I think you’ve earned it.”

Coop puts out his hand to receive the small item the Pontiff drops into it.  He looks down to see Armand de Périgord’s gold signet ring in his palm.


Pushing open the bronze doors to Saint Peter’s Square, the Swiss Guard stands aside to let Cooper pass.  When his eyes adjust to bright glare of the sun, Coop’s heart skips a beat when he sees Amanda standing by the fountain waiting for him.  She looks more gorgeous than ever.


Amanda walks over to him, smiling broadly.  “Rome is a glorious city, Neptune.  I thought you might like to take in a museum or two while you’re here.”

She links arms with Cooper and turns toward the Via Della Conciliazione and the city beyond

“And don’t call me Minnie.”

The End


This was written for the Tenth Daughter of Memory


Neptune's Payback - Part 4

This is a continuation of:
Neptune's Payback - Part 4

After dropping their bags off at the Hotel Saint Germain, Amanda and Coop walk toward the Musée Rodin, about a half mile away.  Both have their hands deep into their coat pockets as they walk into cold wind coming off the Seine.

Continuing their conversation of the past several hours, Cooper says through chattering teeth, “Damn, it’s cold.  OK, about Rodin… I don’t know if you are on the right track or not.  Sure, it’s possible that the priest might have confided in Rodin.  A lot of what you told me seems to point to it.  But I just can’t buy the part about a document.”

“Why not?” Amanda asks.  “According to the Vatican, the priest left behind some sort of documentation about his ‘visitation.’  I mean, that’s what the Pope is so anxious to get a hold of, and I’d bet is paying a pretty penny to find.  Brother ‘Knights of the Whatever’ or not, the US is not going to commits these kinds of resources for free, you know?”

Coop rolls his eyes.  “I hope the price is high.  The Vatican can certainly afford it.”

Amanda continues, “I still think it has to be a document of some sort.  What else could it be?  I checked every artifact attributed to the priest, and he didn’t leave behind anything but written stuff.  Vow of poverty, and all that, you know.  All there was to leave behind was his writings.”

“Think about it, Minnie. We’re talking over one hundred years here.  How likely is it that some piece of paper survived that long, and all without anyone knowing about it?  You think Rodin took this document from the priest, hid it among his things, and no one found it in all these years?  Come on.”  Coop huffs on his cold hands and rubs them together before shoving them back into his pockets.

Amanda looks over at him.  “You should have brought gloves.  I warned you,” she comments, and goes on.  “Well, when you say it like that, it does sound kind of unlikely.  Maybe he hid it in a sculpture…”

“You’d better hope not, because if he did, we are shit out of luck.”

Amanda touches the wall of the large gray stone building to her left.  “This is it. The entrance is around the corner.”

After paying for their tickets and attaching the round orange sticker allowing access to the museum on their coats, Amanda and Cooper open the map handed to them by the ticket agent and begin their tour.
“The museum closes at 4:45PM.  There’s no way we’ll manage to see the gardens today, so I only bought tickets to the house,” Amanda says as they head into the exhibits.  “We’ll come back tomorrow for that."

For the rest of the afternoon, they walk though many rooms of the museum, marveling at the sculptures, and speculating.  At the end of the day, they are awe-struck, exhausted and no closer to an answer than the day before.

“Come on, Minnie.  Let’s get some dinner and a bottle of wine.  This is France, after all.  I’m on information overload.  I need some time to let all this percolate.”


The next day, after a croissant and café, Coop and Amanda are at the Musée Rodin when it opened.  Adding the green Jardin sticker to the orange one already on their coats, they walk around the around the mansion through the rose garden, its bushes covered for the winter.  Coop is grateful that he stopped to by some boots and glove on the way to the museum. A light snow has fallen during the night and the snow crunches beneath their feet as they walk.  

The two take their time, looking carefully at statue in the garden.  As they stand at the base of The Thinker, Coop says, “Damn.  I’ve got to admit; just standing in front of this gives me the chills.”

“It’s magnificent.  In fact, it all is,” Amanda replies.  “But I’m coming to the conclusion that you were right.  I haven’t seen anything that supports my theory.  This is just a collection of wonderful sculptures.”

As they turn to go back, Coop spots a large sculpture along the outer wall, and heads that way.  As they walk, he flips through the pages of the Musée Rodin: Guide to the Gardens they’d picked up earlier.

"It’s called La Porte de l'Enfer, the Gates of Hell,” he says. 

The piece is enormous, and extremely detailed.  As they look closely, Amanda says, “Wow, a lot of the statues we’ve seen here are worked into this piece.  There’s The Kiss and on top, The Three Shades.  And, look,” there’s The Thinker.”

“The guide says that when Rodin carved this, The Thinker was also called The Poet, and that many believe the figure is supposed to be Dante Alighieri,” Coop reads.

He looks up at the figure high above his head, and then suddenly grabs Amanda’s arm.  “Minnie, look. See that inscription carved at the top?”  

Amanda looks up at sees the words “LASCIATE OGNE SPERANZA, VOI CH’INTRATE.”

“I think you might on the right track after all,” Coop says with a tinge of excitement in his voice.

For the next hour, Coop and Amanda examine the large sculpture.   They run their fingers into its many crevices, stopping whenever one of the few visitors to the garden in the cold afternoon air comes their way.

Stepping back with a sigh, “I don’t know, Coop.  There just nothing here.”

“Doesn’t seem to be,” Cooper concedes.  “But, geez, there are just too many clues here to be a coincidence.  I think we missed something.”

“How could we? We’ve probed every inch of this thing that we could reach.  You think there’s something up at the top?”  Amanda is feeling incredibly frustrated, and can tell she’s getting testy.

“Hey, relax, Minnie.”  Coop brushes the snow off a nearby bench and the two of them sit down.

“No, probably not.  I keep coming back to the fact that nothing could be hidden on one of the statues and not be found long before now.”  He scratches pulls off his hat and scratches his head, leaving his curls in a tangles mess.

“But,” he stands and pulls the hat back on, “there’s something here.  I smell it.”

Amanda looks up at him with an oh, puh-lease look on her face.

“Hey, I am Hall Cooper, am I not?”  Coop grabs her hand and pulls her to her feet.  “Come on, I want to look inside again.”


“There.”  Cooper leads Amanda to a bust they’d passed by quickly yesterday, since they could see no openings or crevices where anything could be hidden.  “I thought I remembered seeing this.  Do you have the Guide for the exhibits in here?”

Amanda digs into her pocket, pulls out the booklet, and hands it to him.  He finds the page describing the bust in front of them and reads the blurb.  Before finishing, he holds the page in front of her, and pointing with his finger, says, “Read this.”

She takes the booklet from him and reads, “The priest…

“Yeah, so?  This is important how?”

“Minnie, think.  Isn’t this our guy?  The one who supposedly saw the light?”

Amanda looks at the top of the page to find the name of the piece.  “Yes!  How did we miss that yesterday?”  She looks at Coop, completely forgetting her fatigue and frustration of a few minutes ago. 

“But I still don’t see how this helps us,” she says leaning around to look at the back of the sculpture. “We can’t pick the thing up and look under it or anything.  Even if we could heft it – it’s solid bronze and probably heavy as hell – moving it would no doubt sound alarms and bring the guards running.”

Cooper nods.  “Right.  But remember what I said about the ‘documentation’ not being a hidden document?  Well, maybe I was wrong.  Maybe it is hidden… hidden in plain sight.”

As Amanda’s brow furrows, Coop gestures toward the bust again.  “Look.”

She looks again, and realizes that the priest is holding a scroll in his arms.  Carved on the scroll are several words.  “Latin.”

“The guide says that some of the words are misspelled.  How likely is that, Minnie?”  Cooper’s eyes gleam as he looks at Amanda.

A small smile creeps onto to her lovely face, and she leans over and plants a big kiss on his cheek.

“How likely, indeed.  And don’t call me Minnie.”

Continued in Part 5


Neptune's Payback - Part 3

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.


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?”

“I do.”

“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.”