Lee Crane checked his watch for the umpteenth time. Nelson hid a smile as he watched Crane squirm with boredom. The Admiral had been invited to hear a controversial debate about the upcoming planetary alignment, and while he found the topic intriguing, he also realized Crane was finding it difficult not to yawn. "Lee," he whispered, in a seat next to him, "why don't you go and do a little sightseeing. This may go on a bit. I'll meet you when we break for lunch, about noon, I think. At the hotel."
"What if you want to go back to Seaview before then?"
"I can wait. Go on, have a little R&R. Visit the Eiffel Tower, see the new Anderson Annex, it's a stop-gap measure while the Louve is being remodeled and the subway's being repaired, and then there's Notre Dame.."
"Or the can-can dancers.."
"One track mind you have Captain," Nelson waved him off, and resumed his attention to the present speaker…
"Now," the non-matronly Dr. Baker said, "Leonardo Da Vinci himself, a noted astronomer stated," if we could but harness the mystical power of the universe that is increased in intensity during a planetary alignment such as this, we could conceivably cure the ills of mankind, and even speak to the dead, not to mention transconfiguration ...."
"What is this, the dark ages?" a guest rose.
"If you'd let me continue…"
"Hogwash, take it to some tabloid"
"Dr. Baker," Nelson rose, almost conversationally.
The men and women who had risen to leave settled back down, if only to hear what the noted American Nobel Prize winner would say.
"I have to agree that it certainly sounds like hocus pocus, "Nelson continued," however, I've seen and documented enough unaccountable phenomenon due to magnetic influence of our own moon upon our oceans, our weather patterns, even upon our species. Can anyone here deny that there are more mood swings and crimes during a full moon? Sounds like planetary influence to me. Please Dr. Baker, I'm sure my esteemed colleagues would wish you to continue."
"Thank you Admiral Nelson, what I'm trying to say is this, that if the alignment Da Vinci spoke of is similar to the one approaching tonight, who are we to say it doesn’t have some sort of energy we don’t understand?"
"It's an intriguing idea," Nelson said.
"Why?" another guest asked.
"Because knowledge is the key to understanding."
There were far too many people milling about the Anderson Annex. One famous lady Lee noticed was surrounded by sycophants and dignitaries, and tourists and just plain everybody. On occasion Crane could see her eyes, and sometimes her smile. But there was no way to get close to her. Damn.
"Try it, Commander, "Dr. Baker urged over lunch at the sidewalk café, "it's a delicacy!"
Nelson had invited her to lunch and she'd insisted on the choice of appetizer.
"But these are snails!" Lee objected.
"Well," Nelson chuckled, "you're the one who just complained about Cookie's plain old fare. This is very gourmet!"
Lee dunked his mini-fork into one of the oiled shells and lifted a bit of greenish-black goo to his mouth. "Aghh! It tastes like sh…it tastes awful."
"It's better with wine, at least so you won't notice," Nelson laughed, and began to eat his plateful. "I was brought up on these…though I'll agree it's an acquired taste."
All three laughed and Lee settled on a few carrot sticks until his order of a chicken salad sandwich arrived.
"So, are you enjoying Paris?" Dr. Baker asked of Crane. " It's crowded right now with the Medieval Festival, the singers and dancers in costume everywhere, but I understand you managed to visit the Annex."
"It was swamped. I'm afraid I couldn't enjoy it very much."
"Oh, Lee," Nelson said as if an afterthought, "Dr. Baker and I have a great deal to discuss about her theory. I've decided to stay in town awhile."
"I'll take the flying sub back to Seaview and bring some things for you."
"Oh, please, Commander, why not stay over as well? " Baker asked.
"Good idea, Betty. Lee, you could use a little time away from the boat, I can't think of a better opportunity. How many times can you say you've been to Paris."
"Only this once. You know," he said as he watched some ladies stroll by, "I may just do that! I'll be back in few hours with your gear Admiral."
"So the Admiral's got a girlfriend," Chip almost smirked as Lee packed a few of Nelson's clothes and toiletries into a suitcase.
"Apparently. He won't admit it though; he's staying to discuss some wild theory of hers. As for me, I just intend to enjoy the sights!"
"Skipper," Sharkey entered the cabin, "the flying sub's ready to go again. Uh, sir?"
"Me and the crew's been talking, and uh, well, this planet thing…"
"Relax, Sharkey," Crane clicked the suitcase shut," the cosmos' been doing this sort of stuff for eons. We just didn't have scientists or decent telescopes in the olden days….of course, if you notice any of Seaview's hull plates turning into gold, remember to save me some."
The bellboy led Crane into the Nelson suite. Lee was about to announce himself, but stopped cold as he heard giggling and the unmistakable sounds of lovemaking from behind one of the bedroom doors. He motioned the bellboy back out into the corridor. "Are you sure this is the correct suite?"
"Yes, Admiral Harriman Nelson," he read the slip of paper.
"Do you have any other rooms available?"
"None, sir, but" he was interrupted with the sound of a bed creaking rather rhythmically. He cleared his throat and continued, "There is a bar downstairs if you'd care to wait, Amore', is it not wonderful? He is an old man, but…love, she conquers all, does she not?"
"Look," Crane wrote a note on the hotel stationery and put in an envelope," leave this suitcase here, but take mine downstairs." The bellboy did as bid, as Lee placed the envelope to look as though it had been shoved under the door, and fled.
Crane ordered a drink, sat down in the lobby, and waited. The lobby was crowded and some Medieval Festival troupe played some odd instruments, showed off their 15th Century costumes and sold postcards and photographs to the tourists…but Lee just couldn't get into a jovial mood. Could he be jealous?"
"Lee? Lee?" Nelson shook him awake. "You were sawing wood there. I got your note, but why not just use your key and come in?"
"Oh, I uh," Lee flushed.
"Oh." Nelson got the unspoken message and flushed a little himself. "I'm sorry Lee, I didn't think you'd be back so quickly. After we see some of the sights, Dr. Baker's managed to arrange for us to see some of Da Vinci's etchings and an old painting cleaned…not every day you get a private showing from a museum…".
"A genius," Nelson studied another backward scrawl by the master. He was seated at a large table in the Anderson Annex, as one of greatest treasures of France was brought in for cleaning and settled behind him on a wide cupboard.
"You know," Lee said, as he studied both parchments and painting, "I think I would have liked to have met him. His painting's are so.. so…well, there aren't any words for this one," he spread his arms.
"Indeed, "one of the curators said, "we also have some more drawings of his, recently discovered in an old chest, hidden away all these years in Notre Dame, confiscated by the church as profane."
"Oh, my" Betty said, as she began to leaf through them, her hands gloved in protective latex,"…I see…oh, yes, I can see why they objected. Some of these are obscene, even…disgusting. "
"I didn't know you were a prude, Betty, "Nelson examined the drawings. "As a scientist, you can see he did his research."
"We haven't finished cataloging them, yet," the curator said, "but they will be a welcome addition to the collection, it we can show them, that is."
"What's the matter Lee?" Nelson asked later that evening as Lee meandered around the suite, rather aimlessly. They'd said their goodnights to Betty over drinks and it was nearing midnight.
"I know, It's just…just, I don’t know…I have the fidgets or something…"
"Why not go for a walk, that should relax you a bit."
Lee soon found himself a few blocks away, and turned his head to listen to the bells of Notre Dame ringing in midnight. "Mhmph!" he made a muffled gasp as he sprawled on the ground. With him was a woman in full medieval costume.
"I'm sorry," he offered his hand and helped her up."I wasn't paying attention to where I was going. I was listening to the bells. Are you all right? Do you understand? Is your festival troupe nearby? I'm sorry, I don't speak French."
She smoothed down her full length gown, not flamboyant like the others he'd seen, in fact, to his eyes, it was even a bit dowdy. She gave him what seemed to be an almost appraising look.
"Look," he continued, "I'm sorry…do you understand? So-ry. "
She touched his forehead, concerned. There was a deep gash on it, and blood was starting to trickle down into his eyelashes. He wiped it off on a sleeve, unconcerned.
"I’m fine, must have scraped it on something, look, I need to know, are-you-okay?"
She only put a finger to her lips, in a 'shhh' motion, and led him away as if in a hurry away from the hotel and nearby Annex.
Nelson was awakened by a loud knock at the door at 1 am. He plodded over and opened it to face two police officers and a man in a black suit.
"Admiral Nelson? I'm Officer Whitman. One of the painting's at the Anderson Annex is missing. It had to have been an inside job, and you were one of the last persons to visit the place. You may have seen something. We want to talk to you."
"Of course, let me get dressed and I'll be right with you."
"There were two people with you aside from the curator…"
"Yes, Dr. Betty Baker and Commander Lee Crane."
"We have Dr. Baker in custody. I believe Crane is in here?" he walked over to one of the bedrooms and opened it…then to Nelson's room, "or perhaps he's in here?"
"Look, I don't appreciate your insinuation and if Crane's not in his room, he's apparently not come back yet."
"I don't know. He went for a walk. About midnight."
"Hmph,"Whitman nodded to one of his companions, who departed. "Please hurry, Admiral."
"Now, look!" Crane grabbed the woman's arm, stopping her gait, "I've tried to be nice, but enough already. I don’t know who you are, or what you want, or where you think you're going."
She motioned to her throat and shook her head.
"Oh, you're a mute? I'm sorry. I didn't realize…but you can understand English?"
She simply looked up, and kissed him, passionately, deeply, before he could respond.
Suddenly it didn't matter to Lee that it had begun to rain. It didn't matter that the woman couldn't speak English, or that she refused to say anything. It didn't matter that he knew nothing about her. It didn't matter that alarm bells ingrained from a career in naval discipline and even Intelligence were positively ringing in his ears. All that mattered was that he needed her, and right now.
"What do you mean, you're in jail?"Chip asked from the radio shack.
"Look, Chip, I've been arrested as a suspect for the theft of a national treasure. Lee's suspected too, but they can't find him…the Embassy said they'd get me out of jail, but I have to stay in town."
"What do you want us to do?"
"Sit tight. I'll have to get back to you…"
The old turret had seen better days. Most of it was a decayed ruin, on a kind of mound, a little separate from nearby buildings, but it offered shelter of a sort. Not that Lee cared when he'd seen it. He was far too busy to care. Nothing mattered but to satisfy the urge, the primitive, primal urge that he was in desperate need to satisfy. I was with difficulty that he almost tore her complicated clothes off, while she more quickly removed his. She ran her fingers over his nipples, down his chest and into his pubic hair and genitals as if she was exploring a man for the first time. But it was too late to examine him further as Lee pushed her down atop the discarded clothing, spread her willing legs apart, and plunged into her.
She hadn't thought it would be quite like this, and encouraged him on with her hands, caressing his strong form. She wanted him to flood her with his essence, but it hadn't happened yet. Was there something wrong with him? He was trying that much was certain. He was thrusting harder and deeper in a frantic pace now. Was he in pain? She couldn’t tell. Finally, he stilled and she felt the warm liquid spill into her. He lay atop her, spent, panting as his penis went limp. She ran her hands through his hair, then managed to get him to turn over onto his back.
She took her time to gaze at him. He was the epitome of male beauty that she'd known he would be. Ever since that very first time she'd gazed at him more than a year ago on that cruise, she'd known he would be beautiful, a work of art. It wasn't long before the man took her into his arms yet again. She began to run her hands over his nipples and suckled them as he had done hers. She also began to run her fingers down his hips and genitals, bringing him to a new arousal.
It didn't matter that a shadow in the corner of the turret seemed to be alive, watching them. It didn’t matter that the night lightened into day. What wasn't left of the roof allowed the early morning sunlight shine down on Crane and the woman as they continued to couple again and again wantonly in the ancient dance of sheer unmitigated lust.
"Who had access to the painting after closing?" Whitman asked at the station.
"No one," one of the curators said. "It was locked in the restoration room. And the alarms were set."
"And before closing?"
"Only the photo shoot with one of the Medieval Player Troupes, for the festival. But that was heavily guarded, no one came nearer to the painting than I am to you."
Lee wondered if her nipples were as sore as his were. She'd actually bitten his. He'd never spent an entire night and most of the morning in an almost continual state of arousal and excitement as he had with her. He'd lost count how many times he'd climaxed. It wasn't normal, he knew. He was no Hercules. But he didn't care. Not even about the old man in non-descript rags who sat in the corner watching them, sometimes hovering over them, and helping to position them into new techniques.
She'd been excited when she'd found she could bring him to a climax as well by simply fondling him. She, more than a few times, had taken his engorged penis and allowed it to burst its warm fluid wherever she wanted to aim it, even at the old man. She'd laughed at that, though silent, as if it were a joke.
But it was his own technique that made him stand up, with her still impaled upon him from the last coupling and carry her to the wide jagged open window ledge and look out over the busy city. He didn't care if anyone saw them. He doubted it though. This old ruin was somewhat left standing in it's own overgrown mound, a historic monument he supposed, that nobody took care of.
"I don’t even know your name…even the sunshine can't do you justice."
She only responded with an intoxicating grin, grabbed his buttocks and urged him to resume their lovemaking. He leaned her against the curved wall of the tower, her legs still wrapped around him, one of her feet braced against the sill as he hardened again and lunged in an even more frenzied pace. Finally he exploded and they collapsed to the floor and lay there, gasping for air, while a few rivulets of semen trailed down the stone wall to join with theirs, pooling beneath them on the flagstones.
"Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen," a TV reporter said, translated by closed captioning, as Betty and Nelson watched from the Embassy. "Tonight there is no further word as to whom is responsible for the theft at the Anderson Annex. Terrorism, a simple act of vandalism, or hostage of the painting for money, authorities are stumped.
"While there is no proof of his involvement, Admiral Nelson is one of the many suspects, including the Annex staff. Authorities continue to search for another American, Commander Lee Crane, who like Nelson, was one of the last persons to see the painting before its disappearance. Also suspected are the curators of the Annex, which as you may know was set up to house such treasures while the Louve is undergoing remodeling. Dr. Betty Baker, who's controversial theories regarding planetary alignment and increased instances of emotional, physical and even paranormal occurrences has also been placed under arrest. However, nothing more disturbing has been noted other than a couple of blips that scientists regard as sunspots."
It was getting late and while Lee climaxed yet again inside the woman's body, she suddenly pushed him away, tossing back her long dark hair, as if she were listening to something in the wind, or seeing something above in the stars. She started to grab the clothes they'd lain on at times, stained and sticky with sweat and semen.
"Wait,"Lee said. "We have all night, and tomorrow, and forever…"
She touched his lips with her finger, and hurriedly dressed, fumbling with the laces. He tried to help, but the old man pushed him away and did a better job with the old costume. After she was dressed, she gazed at Crane. He was still naked, sweaty, and glistening in the moonlight. A few drops of semen had dried on his pubic hair, and some had trailed down his legs making him even more alluring. If only…no…she had to go. Soon it would be too late. She ran down the worn steps.
"Wait, please, "Crane pleaded, running after her, almost tripping, down the ancient spiral steps. "You've got to talk to me! I need to know who you are. We need to be together! It can't end like this!"
She turned at the bottom of the steps, gave him a haunting whisper of a smile, and fled.
He ran after her out into the night. But it was no use. She'd vanished.
It wasn't until he shivered that he realized he was still naked, and slowly climbed back up the mound, and into the turret, his mind empty of thought except overwhelming loss. The old man was shoving something into the shambles of Lee's clothes, then shuffled hurriedly down the steps. The bells of Notre Dame rang midnight. Lee suddenly felt dizzy, darkness clouded his mind, and he passed out.
"What is it Mr. Ambassador?" Nelson asked wearily from his place at the breakfast table.
"They found him, or they think they did. Somebody thought they'd heard a moan from an old ruin and called the police…he matches the description but…"
"The man they found was stark naked and feverish. They're taking him to the hospital."
"Admiral?" the attending physician entered the waiting room. "Mr. Crane needed a couple of stitches to the forhead. We've given him a tetanus shot. No evidence of a concussion. I’m still working on the blood analysis. Should be ready soon. So far we can't find anything more damaging than a few hickies, sore and apparently bitten nipples and rather extensive irritation to the genitals; but there's no evidence that he was sexually abused, in spite of his clothes being a mess; wrinkled, damp, and…rather…used, if the semen all over them means anything."
A nurse brought him a clipboard and whispered something.
"Ah, here's the blood report….I see…odd…Oh,"he brought his attention back to Nelson and the police officer with him, "the man was poisoned."
"Highly toxic…it's an old mix used in paints before the present age. But he would have had to ingest it somehow…he was at the Annex with you?"
"I'm sorry, but something was found in his pocket. Officer, would you have the curator sent over? Admiral, if you will follow me?"
"But this is impossible! Lee Crane would never steal anything!"Nelson almost shouted from the small office at the hospital.
"How then, do you explain what was found in his pocket?"the curator held up the unfolded parchment, "he certainly did not draw it. This is the work of a master, though the content leaves a lot to be desired. "
"It will be analyzed, of course,"the police officer said," and matched with the museum files, but I think we have found our thief. I wish to see this Crane as soon as possible."
"I keep telling you, I don’t remember taking anything from the place,"Lee said hoarsely from his bed.
"Very good excuse, Crane, delirium is so convenient," Whitman said.
"I..I don’t know…I can't have stolen it, or the painting…I couldn't have."
"Please, that's enough,"the nurse said, ushering the group out. "we'll call you when his fever's down. It shouldn’t be too long. He's doing much better."
"Ladies and gentlemen," the TV reporter said," police today have been searching an old turret for the possible hiding place of the stolen portrait, as Crane had on his person, or rather in his clothing, a parchment of many sketches that may have been drawn by one of the old masters and stored in the back rooms of the Anderson Annex, the very back rooms that Crane had visited… Crane, while still in the hospital, has been formally charged.
"But Lee," Nelson said from Lee's bedside,"there's no record of this girl you keep talking about. None of the festival troupes have a mute, and you saw the photos of their people yourself, nobody matches her, nobody's missing…perhaps you imagined her, you've been feverish, or maybe she just doesn't want to be found."
"But I need her! I…I…need her…"
"Admiral?"the door was opened by an officer guarding Crane's room."The Doctor sir."
"I found something interesting. The same paint mix that poisoned Crane was often used as an aphrodisiac in the 15th century. Supposedly it increased the libido and could drive a man sex mad."
"Is it still in his system?"
"Yes, but its influence is fading. He should be clean of it within a day or two.He's very fortunate it wasn't more. Too much could have been fatal."
"Look, "Lee said at the police station, on the same day of his release from the hospital, and still weak,"I told you. After I left the museum with Nelson, we went back to the hotel, I went for a walk. I didn't steal anything!"
"How do you explain this?"Whitman handed him the parchment.
"I don't know. I've never seen it before,"he studied the various etchings of a man and woman making love, including magnified sketches of their genitalia during the act itself. He turned it over to see the reverse side and gasped."It's her. it's her! "
"The woman I bumped into. We…we…kissed and ..and…spend some time together. In an old turret. It's all overgrown but it was private…we wanted to be alone."
"This woman,"the officer waved the picture.
"Yes. Now you believe me, don't you? "he said to Nelson., "Use it to find her!"
The officer raised his eyebrow, and whispered to his fellow officers who brought in a medical team to stand behind Crane; the nurse held a straight jacket.
"You've got to find her and…" he looked up in anguish as one of the officers motioned 'crazy' with his finger around in the air.
The acting curator followed the charwoman into restoration room and gasped. He punched the alarm button and called the police.
"Now, Crane,"Whitman continued, nodding to the nurse to stand closer to his prisoner, "you and this woman, just what did you all this time?
"We..we..,"he looked straight into the officer's eyes, and spoke the simple truth. "We made love."
"From midnight to midnight?"
"What about food, water?"
"I..I don't know…I don't think we had any, it wasn't important…there was some wine in an old barrel though…he showed me."
"He? I thought you were alone with the lady."
"I…we didn't know he was there when we…it didn't matter. Nothing mattered. "
"You made love to a beautiful woman while someone else was in the room? "
"Yes…I…. I guess I was besotted or something. I still am, I guess. I want to find her…. Time didn't mean anything, nothing meant anything, only her. Being one with her. We didn’t even care about our clothes, they got stained when we sort of used them over the rougher flagstones, and we didn't care about him being there."
"Did this man say anything?"
"No, He ..showed us the wine and….and…"
"Enjoyed the show…Go on…"
"I…what more to you want?" Lee yelled.
"I want to know how you can sit there and say you spent that time all alone with a beautiful woman making love while you let a man watch! Your story has more holes than a Swiss cheese, unless you're some kind of pervert or really are crazy, in which case," he motioned for the nurse to begin putting the straight jacket on Crane.
"Now wait a minute,"Nelson rose, angry.
"This does not concern you, Nelson. Answer the question, Crane."
"I..he….he helped us," Lee looked miserable as the nurse placed one arm in the restricting garment.
"Helped you? how?"
"We..he studied us…he..positioned us so we could…experiment."
"She didn't know about technique. I didn't know very many. He did; a lot of them."
"I see. Did he join in?"
"No…he sat in the corner and watched."
"Now, you said he said nothing, so he was a mute as well?"
"I don’t know." Lee said, eyes downward as the nurse finished tying up the bands of the jacket behind Crane's arms.
"Stop it, "Nelson yelled,"can't you see he's trying to remember the best he can? He's ill, he's.."
"Excuse me,"another officer interrupted from the door. "Phone for you. All of you, they said. Urgent. On the speaker phone."
"Yes?"the officer answered, irritated.
"It's all been a horrible mistake!"the acting curator bellowed over the speaker phone."It must simply have been overlooked and fallen between one two of the cupboards when they were working on the subway. It shakes the annex building at times. A cleaning woman found it this morning when she bumped her toe on it and pulled it out…"
"That's a little hard to believe. We checked that room thoroughly."
"You did, but just the same, how else can you explain it, the painting didn't walk away by itself!"
"What about the Da Vinci parchment found on Crane? How do you explain that?" the officer asked.
"I don't know how to explain his having it, but we have checked and rechecked and it is not one of ours. "
"I thought the Annex hadn't cataloged the chest's sketches!"
"We didn't, but the church did when they sealed up the chest. A complete inventory. "
"How did Crane obtain a Da Vinci? He may be an American, but I doubt he could afford even that!"
"I don't know, but it is not ours."
"Well, Lee,"Betty asked,"glad to be free? What did you do with the parchment?" as they toured the Annex.
"I'd have liked to have kept it...to remember her by…but…I gave it to the museum."
"Excuse me, "the re-appointed curator approached the men, and handed Crane a beautifully bound book. "Prints of the entire illustrated Da Vinci collection, including the new finds, and of your little parchment too, compliments of the Louve and the Annex. "
"Thank you," Lee began to leaf through it then stopped,"it's her!"he ran off toward one of the wings.
"What's that all about?"Nelson asked.
"I have no idea,"she looked at the page,"it's just the drawing of…uh, oh…"she handed Nelson the book. On the page which featured the full color picture of the Mona Lisa there was what looked like a preliminary sketch, the same sketch from Crane's parchment. Odd they hadn't noticed the resemblance.
She was surrounded again by sycophants and oglers, dignitaries and tourists. Fawned over and guarded, a prisoner of her fame. All she had to sustain her was the memory of a hidden interlude.
Nelson saw Lee standing in the crowd, staring at the Mona Lisa.
"Lee, you can't think, you can't possibly think that this portrait just popped out of her painting and took on a life of her own."
"Look at her gown,"Lee said with reslove,"I doubt you'd notice but …those aren't age, heat, varnish or paint stains, no matter what damage the curator said she must have received in the restoration room."
"You can't mean?"
Lee grinned,"I mean, that stuff about transconfiguation is real. So, when's this next planetary alignment going to be…if it's in my lifetime, I think I'm going to have a date!"
"There you two are,"Betty caught up with the two,"I found something really weird. Look at this."
There on a full page spread in the book, was the etching of a man leaning back against a curved stone wall; naked, hair tousled, unshaven, smiling with a lover's eyes, and in full arousal.
"The face looks just like Lee's!"Betty whispered. She couldn't help but to wonder if the rest of the etching did too.
"He must have done it while he was watching us… "Lee mused, lost in his memories. "Don’t you see,"he continued," it was him, Da Vinci, he drew it, or his ghost or something."
"What are you talking about?"Dr. Baker asked.
"Later," Nelson prodded the two, anxious to get away from prying ears.
"I wonder what she's smiling about," a tourist asked as Crane, Nelson and Betty walked beyond the display and toward the exit. Various people offered up reasons and explanations, but Lee knew, his spirit buoyed up, sustained by his hidden interlude and her whisper of a smile.