General Fiction posted November 7, 2018 Chapters:  ...23 24 -25- 26 


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Chapter 25: A slight case of separation anxiety

A chapter in the book The French Letter

The Seizure

by tfawcus




Background
Charles has rescued Helen and Jeanne from the Mafia, and successfully recovered Helen's journal from its secret hiding place. They are now intent upon lying low for a while.
From Chapter 24:

Helen slid her arm around the side of the seat and surreptitiously pinched me on the thigh, rather more painfully than was strictly necessary. "Of course, you will be most welcome to accompany us, Jeanne. We can look after you, at least until your injuries have healed. You'll be quite safe with us."

Yes, I thought, but will we be quite safe with her? My sixth sense was running overtime. However, what chance has a mere male got against two determined women?

Chapter 25

We arrived at the Gare du Nord without incident, and while I returned the hire car, Helen and Jeanne went to book tickets for the next available train to London. We arranged to meet on the second level, at a café close to the international departure platforms.

Our timing couldn't have been worse. It took longer to return the car than anticipated, and when I finally emerged, the main concourse was thronging with people returning home after their day's work. My temper was frayed by the time I had struggled through the crowds, and when I reached our meeting point, I was annoyed to find neither Helen nor Jeanne were anywhere to be seen.

I cursed silently as I joined a queue to order coffee. Why do these arrangements always have to go wrong? I pulled out my mobile phone to text Helen, "Where the hell are you?" There was no reply. I abandoned the queue and started to search in nearby shops and cafés. My irritation changed to concern. Damn, we should never have separated. What a fool I am.

I had almost given up finding them when I saw Helen frantically weaving through the crowds in the main concourse below. She was alone, and it was clear from the way she was pushing people aside that she was distressed. Something was seriously wrong. I raced down to meet her.

It took her a moment or two to catch her breath. "Oh, Charles," she said. "Jeanne's been taken ill."

"Where is she?" I saw the frantic look in her eye. "Tell me - what's the matter?" I put my arm around her shoulder and guided her to a nearby table. "Calm down and take your time. There's no hurry." Taking her hand in mine, I held it gently. "It looks as though you've had a nasty shock, but everything will be all right now. I promise.”

She pulled away from me abruptly. " Don’t be so bloody patronising. I don’t see how you can promise that." Then, with a deep breath, "Sorry, I’m a bit overwrought at the moment.” She gave a half-smile of apology before continuing, “We were standing in the queue, waiting to buy tickets, when Jeanne suddenly turned white, and began shaking. She seemed to be having a seizure of some sort. It was ghastly. She started to vomit, then her legs gave way and she passed out."

"What an awful thing to be faced with. What did you do?”

“We took her to the hospital.”

“We?”

“Yes, a man helped me.”

“What man?” I was instantly on the alert.

A waiter hovered near the table, waiting to take our order. “How about a hot drink," I said, "while you tell me about it?”

“Yes, that would be good.”

I ordered two large cups of coffee - with cognac - then leaned forward, waiting for her to continue.

"There was a lovely gentleman in the queue just behind us. He knelt down, took Jeanne's pulse and examined her briefly, then turned to me and said, 'Madame needs proper medical assistance. There is a General Hospital just across the road from here, the Lariboisière. They have an emergency department. Please - let me assist you. I happen to work there.' Taking charge of the situation, he helped Jeanne to her feet and said, 'Sit down with her and stay here while I go and find a wheelchair. They will have one at the SNCF information desk.'"

“That sounds almost too good to be true. What a coincidence that a doctor was there, right beside you when you needed him.” I beckoned to the waiter, and took a cup from him to pass across the table to Helen. "Here, have a drink of this. It will do you good."

She smiled gratefully and took a sip, then spluttered, spilling coffee all over the place as she put the cup down. "What on earth's in that?"

"A shot of brandy. I thought it would help calm you."

"You might have told me, you idiot! I nearly choked." She dabbed the table with a paper napkin, and looked down to make sure she hadn't spilt any on her skirt.

"I'm sorry. I thought you heard me give the order. Here, have mine instead. I'll clean up the mess." The waiter noticed my ham-fisted efforts, and was quick to bring a cloth to complete the mopping up properly.

Meanwhile, Helen took a sip from my cup - with rather more success this time. "Mmmm, not bad - when you're expecting it." She gave me a sidelong look. "Anyway, it turned out he was a surgeon in the cancer unit. He returned in no time, and we were able to wheel her across to the hospital, where he arranged priority assistance. It's not what you know on occasions like this - it's who you know."

"Then you suddenly remembered your other travelling companion, and came rushing back here to find me?"

"More or less."

"Why didn't you phone?"

"I did, but you didn't answer."

I fished my phone out of my pocket. Sure enough, there were three missed calls recorded. "Damned phones! No bloody use when you need them."

"Especially when you leave them on 'silent'." She gave me a playful look, an encouraging sign that she was beginning to recover her usual equilibrium.

"Now what?" I left the question hanging in the air.

"We shall have to go back to the hospital, and see how Jeanne is getting on. We can't just leave her stranded there."

"What about the Mafia?" I scanned the crowds, searching for suspicious looking men in dark suits and dark glasses.

"I don't think we need to worry too much about them. If they were hot on our trail, they would have been here already." I was pretty sure that I heard an element of hero-worship in her voice when she continued. "Maybe that old Citroen has got the pip."

"As you well might have, with an apple stuffed up your jacksie. There's an old saying, 'A pippin a day keeps the mafia away.'"

"Doctor."

"Maybe, but it didn't keep the doctor away on this occasion. Lucky for you! You'd have been lost without him."
***
I'm not good at sitting around in hospital wards and so, when Helen suggested that she keep the vigil at Jeanne's bedside alone, I didn't protest too strongly. "I know a lovely little restaurant, a couple of hundred yards down Rue St Vincent de Paul. You'll deserve a splendid dinner after your Good Samaritan act. I could meet you there in a couple of hours if you like. It's called L'Ardoise Gourmande and the escargots are to die for. "

"Not literally, I hope. Ugh! Snails! I hope that's not the only thing on the menu." She gave me a lingering kiss, as if to suggest that it might not be.
***
Fifteen minutes later, I was comfortably ensconced at a side table in L'Ardoise Gourmande, enjoying the romantic atmosphere of chandeliers and soft music, white table linen and polished silver, and looking forward to an appetiser of a dozen escargots in garlic butter, washed down with a half bottle of Piper-Heidsieck. A champagne moment, I thought, as I withdrew Helen's journal from the inside pocket of my jacket and contemplated its travel-worn faux-leather cover, a dun-coloured disguise for the secrets within. I placed it in front of me reverently, opened it at the first page, and began to read.


Recognized


Glossary:
SNCF: The 'Societe nationale des chemins de fer francais' is France's national state-owned railway company.

The Oxford English Dictionary suggests that 'getting the pip' means feeling depressed or out of sorts- as you might well be, with an apple stuffed up your exhaust pipe.

List of characters:

Charles Brandon: The narrator, a well-known travel writer.
Helen Culverson: A woman of some mystery, also a travel writer, who seems to have become Charles's girlfriend.
Kayla Culverson: Her older sister, who disappeared somewhere in Bangkok.
Madame Jeanne Durand: A French magazine editor, who was involved in a serious accident, and seems also to be involved with the Mafia in some way.
Madame Madeleine Bisset - Helen's landlady in Paris
Monsieur Bellini - a denizen of the French Underworld.
Dr. Laurent: A veterinary surgeon in Versailles.
Father Pierre Lacroix, vicar of the Versailles Notre Dame church.
Madame Lefauvre: An old woman living in Versailles - the town gossip.
Francoise Gaudin: An intellectually disabled woman living in Versailles.
Alain Gaudin: brother of Francoise, a gardener at Monet's house in Giverney
Estelle Gaudin [deceased]: mother of Francoise and Alain, a prostitute
Mademoiselle Suzanne Gaudin [deceased]: Alain's grandmother, to whom the mysterious letter of 1903 was addressed.
Colonel Neville Arnoux [deceased] - of whom we may hear more later.
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