Friday, May 1, 2015



                       [Chapter 12 will be available on June 1, 2015]

Although Edmund's use of the word 'we' was encouraging, Vanessa still felt like sobbing. She didn't know what she'd do if she never saw Charlie again. His fluffy, white, bouncy body and always laughing face had brought her comfort and joy. She thought back to when she first found him. He was just a sodden, grey, ragamuffin huddled at the bottom of the hard, cold steps leading up to her building. The fall storm had blown his leash out of the hand of the poor little guy's owner. The frightened dog ended up blocks away, shivering and wet. Vanessa's heart had melted when he looked up at her with trusting eyes. She struggled to pick him up while holding her umbrella and briefcase. But eventually they all made it up to her apartment. And the most exciting adventure had begun.
      Now it was no longer exciting. Now it was unbearably sad. She wanted to throw herself on her large, comfy bed and wail, but knew she had to keep her wits about her if she was to find her dog. And she did. She practiced her calming meditation, breathing slowly in and out. Finally, her higher brain functions kicked in and she looked at the phone in her hand. Charlie's photos were in it. Why on earth had she run up the stairs looking for them.
      When the police officer arrived, she asked if she could send the photos on her phone to the police station. He gave her an email address and called the station to warn them of the arriving dog pictures. Then she answered all his questions. It took longer than she expected, but she was glad the earnest, young man was taking the dog napping seriously. He did not laugh or make fun of her distress.
      She felt drained after he left, but there was something else she thought she needed to do. She wanted to call Ricard and thank him for his help.
      Efficient, unflappable Edmund was able to give her the phone number for their neighbor's chateau and also rang it up for her. If he thought it odd that she wanted to speak with the 'enemy,' he never showed it. He explained in French to the person who answered, that someone wanted to speak to Ricard. After a wait of several minutes, she was finally put through to him.
      “Allo. Ricard ici.” His voice cold and formal.
      “Ricard, this is Vanessa. You helped me when my dog was stolen.”
      “Oh, oui, yes, of course. Sorry, I thought Edmund was calling for Lucy. Did you call the police?”
      “I did and they were very nice. They didn't laugh at me. They were serious about getting Charlie back. I sent them photos which they said they would distribute copies to all members of their force.”
      “Eh, bien. That is good.”
      “Yes. Everyone has been so kind and helpful. And that's why I'm calling. I want to thank you for giving me a ride back to Sevigny on your bicycle and offering me hope that all would turn out all right. Maybe, in return, I could treat you to lunch someday.”
      “That is very hospitable of you, but let us wait until you have Charlie back. And then we will have a celebration. OK?”
      Vanessa was disappointed not to see him sooner, but maybe he felt the contest was an obstacle to their becoming friends. “Yes, yes, and I will pray that happens soon.”
      “I too, Vanessa, I too.”
      At dinner the family expressed their dismay that her dog had been taken. Lucy assured her the police were formidable and would find Charlie and the evil man who had taken him.
      That night, Vanessa had terrible nightmares of Charlie crying in a cage, of Charlie in a research laboratory, of Charlie injured and bleeding. She was relieved when the cold, grey dawn showed in her window and she could finally get up.
      After a breakfast of strong, hot coffee and a flaky croissant that she could barely swallow, she thought she'd walk the route she'd taken with Charlie. She knew he was probably long gone from the area, but she felt sentimental and didn't know what else to do.
      Vanessa walked down to the open gate leading to the country road, and there scampering up to meet her was a dog. She could not believe or even hope it was Charlie. But it was! She thought he'd either escaped on his own, or the man had let him go. She knelt to greet him and he jumped into her arms licking furiously all over her smiling face. She set him back down on the dusty road, and then noticed that his glitzy collar was gone. She wondered if he'd been tied by it and somehow pulled himself out of it. She didn't care, she had never liked it. But she was glad if it had helped him escape. And now she would buy Charlie the best, most dignified collar she could find.
      The whole household rejoiced with her. She was touched by how kind everyone was about a little missing dog. Edmond called the police station to inform them the dog was safe at home. The officer he spoke to told him the police did not like the idea of a dog napper running around in the neighborhood, so they would still be looking for him. And if they caught him, Vanessa could press charges if she wanted.
      She was just happy Charlie was back, but if they needed her to help stop further dog stealing she would do what she could. Charlie was enjoying a bowl of cool water and some treats Edmond had arranged for him, when Jack stopped by and smiled at him. After patting Charlie's soft head a few time, he turned to Vanessa.
      “It's time we resumed your lessons. The contest is upon us.”
      Back they went to the expansive, antique looking but very efficient kitchen. With her faithful dog companion back—she laughed as she realized that sounded like a documentary voice over—she was ready to concentrate on Jack's instructions. However, there was a slight little voice inside that asked if she really wanted to beat Ricard who'd been so kind to her. But then the Sevigny's had also been nice to Vanessa. Oh, she decided she'd just do her best and let the chips fall where they may or maybe let the flour fly where it would.
      “Today you will learn how to french the bones,” He laughed. “I use the same expression that would be used in English. Of course in France we would not say that. What it means is to cut the meat away from the ends of a rib or chop to expose the bones. Chefs think this makes the meat look more elegant. In olden days, a frilled paper was placed on the bone ends, but today that's considered a little 'la de dah'. You won't be doing that.”
      Vanessa spent the afternoon practicing with a boning knife. Her fingers weren't bleeding when they finished, so she considered the lesson a success. 

To be continued on June 1.