First Night: The Conflict Between Hope and Cynicism
Story by Dr. Lee Brazil
Foreword and Epilogue by:
Written by Ron Breazeale, Ph.D.
All Rights Reserved
The Eiffel Tower
December 21, 2019
The real jihad is the warfare against the passions.
~Al-Ghazah, Muslim Writer
When Lee reached the ground, he was focused on getting back to the meeting. The black car from earlier was still there, waiting near the cabstand. Lee was not in the mood. He thought of going over and confronting the occupants, but he thought better of it.
The ride back to the hotel was uneventful. Lee tried to keep his focus. The meeting. The delivery. Some shopping for family. Home.
The black BMW pulled past the cab at the entrance to the hotel. Lee waved.
Lee quickly crossed the lobby and squeezed onto the elevator with fifteen other people. After stopping at what seemed like every floor, the elevator finally arrived at the floor on which the afternoon meeting was being held. Lee walked past the registration table. Five minutes to spare, he thought.
“Monsieur,” the young French woman overseeing the registration table was waving him over. She handed Lee a sealed envelope.
“Merci,” said Lee. At last maybe he could get this over today and enjoy the rest of the meeting and the trip home. He opened the envelope.
Dr. Brazil – Your life is in danger. You must leave the hotel now! Do not return to your room. Go to the hotel basement, B-1. Exit through the staff entrance. A car will be waiting for you. You will be driven to one of the side entrances to the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Go in. Lose yourself in the crowd. I will find you. ~ Andy
Lee hesitated. He read the note again. He had brought his appointment calendar — a hard copy one, a rarity these days — with him from the meeting room and, of course, he had the package with him. He really didn’t need to return to the meeting room or his room.
For a moment, Lee felt angry. He muttered to himself, I’m really too old for this I Spy business
But his old friend, fear, began to push up, as he started to walk toward the elevator. The doors opened. He stepped in. They closed. No one was on the elevator. He hesitated again. He pushed B-1. The elevator groaned as it moved slowly past the floors. The doors finally opened again. A maid pushing a cart filled with clean linen hurried into the elevator on the facing wall.
Lee stepped off the elevator and peered down the long hall. He could see the outline of an entrance. He assumed this was the right one. He looked back. The hall was deserted.
He began to walk slowly down the hall. His pace quickened. Light poured into the building from the door at the end of the hall. It partially blinded him. He could not see what was to his left or his right. He could hear the sound of machinery, he assumed washers and dryers in process. He tried to read door signs as he passed, but his French, when he was feeling stressed, was nonexistent.
He was jogging and half out of breath by the time he reached the entrance door. He hit the crash bar and the door sprang open with a jolt. A black limousine stood at the foot of the loading ramp. Lee walked down the loading dock steps and toward the nondescript car. The side door opened. A man wearing sunglasses and dressed in a business suit covered by a black overcoat stepped out. He looked with anticipation in Lee’s direction. Lee shook his head and moved quickly toward the car, muttering under his breath, I wonder who dresses these guys.
“Please,” said the man in black pointing to the open car door. Lee nodded and plopped down into the soft leather seats, sliding across to make room for his handler.
The door closed. The car was in motion. Lee looked around the limousine trying to get his bearings, but immediately realized the privacy glass was coated on both sides. No one could see in, but no one in the back compartment could see out. Before Lee could speak, the man spoke.
“I’m sorry, Dr. Brazil, but it’s a necessary part of maintaining our privacy and security. We will only be a few minutes. Sit back. Enjoy the ride. Would you like something to drink? Oh, I’m sorry, Dr. Brazil, you no longer are a drinker, are you?”
Lee said nothing. Neither did his handler as the car moved through the streets of Paris toward the Cathedral of Notre Dame.
The limousine slowed and came to a stop. His handler cautiously opened the door and stepped out. He motioned for Lee and pointed to a side door of the cathedral. Lee followed his direction. The door opened as Lee approached it. Lee stepped inside and the door slammed shut behind him. The hallway was dark. The air felt cold and damp. It smelled of mold.
Lee’s eyes, as he had aged, took longer to adapt to the dark. At first he could not see who had opened the door. But he sensed his presence. Just a few feet away. Lee stood still and stared into the dark. The outline of a man dressed in a Monk’s robe became clear as he stared. The figure said nothing, but pointed in the direction of another door about eighty feet away. Lee nodded and moved toward the door. The figure did not move from his post.
As Lee got closer to the large wooden door, he could hear the sound of a crowd. Holiday worshippers. Tourists who had come to see the great cathedral. Construction had begun on the building in the twelfth century but was not completed until the fourteenth. The church was desecrated during the French Revolution, but survived to sound its bells on August 24, 1944, to announce to the residents of Paris that the city had been freed from Nazi occupation.
With some difficulty, Lee cracked the door and peered into the great hall. He stepped through the crack. He closed the door and, as instructed, lost himself in the crowd, which was quite easy to do. Lee gazed up at the organ. “A beautiful work of art itself,” said the tour guide. “Seventy-eight hundred pipes.” Just as he was thinking of a question that he might ask the tour guide, he felt a hand on his arm. The hand took a firm hold on him and moved him in the direction of a set of stairs that led to the vaults below. The chain blocking the stairway was removed quickly by one of the attendants. Lee and, he assumed, Andy proceeded down the stairs. At the bottom of the steps, Lee turned around. Andy spoke first or shall we say, he tried to speak.
Lee interrupted. “I’m tired of playing this stupid little game. Here’s your package,” said Lee reaching into his breast pocket and pulling out the CD.
“No, no,” said Andy. “Not here. You don’t understand.”
“Well, I think I do,” said Lee, his voice rising.
“You don’t,” said Andy with a firmness that got Lee’s attention. “Your life is in danger. All of our lives are in danger. That’s why we’ve changed…” his voice cracking and appearing quite distracted, “your mission.”
Lee felt like saying that his only mission was to get home by Christmas in one piece. But he didn’t.
Andy, appearing to be reading his mind, said, “We would like to see that you get home safe. But first, you must deliver this package. It is not safe with me. You must get back to the States, to Boston, to Jennings. We must get you out of Paris this afternoon.”
“What the hell is on this damn CD . . . never mind. I don’t want to know.”
“Good,” said Andy, appearing to recover. “We have you booked on a charter flight to Bermuda this afternoon.”
“Bermuda. Why Bermuda?”
Andy hesitated. “Well…it’s a roundabout way of getting you back to Boston.”
Lee waited, but Andy said nothing else. “Well, it’s at least in the right direction.”
“Exactly,” said Andy.
“My lord, you’re starting to sound like Jennings.”
“Our man will meet your plane. He will make the arrangements to get you off the island and back to Boston.” Andy looked over his shoulder and called out, “Aman?”
Aman stepped out of the dark and took Lee’s arm. Lee shook his hand off. Lee’s anger once again flashed. “I may be getting old, but I’ve still got most of my teeth, and I can walk on my own.”
Andy nodded and Aman began to lead Lee toward an exit door.
“Watch your step,” said Aman. “We must hurry. Your flight leaves at two-thirty.”
Lee looked at his watch. “You’ve got to be kidding. It’s after one. With security we’ll never make it.”
“Relax, we are security,” said Aman.
Lee smiled. “Right this minute you would have a hard time convincing me of that,” said Lee.
Aman smiled again.
“And what’s happening with Liz? What am I going to tell her?”
Aman took Lee’s arm again and ushered him along. “Don’t worry, Dr. Brazil. We will take care of all of that. We will send Liz a Gmail explaining that you have been delayed but will be arriving in Boston on the 24th.”
Lee did not feel reassured.
“Well, you better do a good job of explaining why. What exactly are you going to tell her?”
“We must go,” he said sternly, and moved Lee toward the door.