"Gone to Jericho: No one knows where. The Manor of
Blackmore, near Chelmsford, was called Jericho, and was
one of the houses of pleasure of Henry VIII. When this
lascivious prince had a mind to be lost in the embraces
of his courtesans, the cant phrase among his courtiers
was ĎHe is gone to Jericho.í Hence a place of concealment."
It was night when she returned to the apartment. She wasnít exactly sure how long the darkness had overtaken the city, she only knew that the change was specific and that she had been gone for much more than the two hours Brianna had demanded. She rang the bell several times, finally with impatience and a long, hard thumb on the button, but no one came to let her in. The hallway was oddly dark, she thought, not bright as it had been when she left for her walk in the park. She looked furtively at the far end, hoping for an explanation and there it was, plain as the nose on her face. A large window, clearly facing west, graced the wall at the end of the corridor. It had been afternoon when she left so, naturally, there had been sunlight. That could account, she thought, for this change in light, this change of mood.
She tried the bell again, then pounded on the door.
"Open up, someone. Itís Freddy," she shouted, her mouth pressed up against the glass opening that allowed occupants to stare out into the hallway to check out visitors. She could hear sounds, she thought, from inside the apartment, but still no one came to let her in. "Max?" Nothing. No reaction. "Brianna? Please?" She waited, her ear pressed up against the metal door, but she could hear nothing more from inside. "I must have been projecting sounds," she thought. It was clear that they had gone out. Perhaps they had been hungry and gone to get some food, to a nearby restaurant. She thought it odd they hadnít left her a note telling her where to meet them. Then she remembered how cold Brianna had been toward her. Perhaps no note made sense. Still, she had Maxís sisterís passport and that should mean something to the woman. Why piss her off when she had the means of making her return to England impossible? That was Brianna, Freddy thought. Impossible.
Unsure of how to proceed, Freddy decided to return to the lobby and check with the doorman, see if he had a message for her. She found an elevator waiting for her, the one that had brought her up a few minutes earlier, and she punched the G button and waited impatiently for the door to reopen and let her out. The doorman, the one who had simply bowed her in on her return, was still in the foyer. She approached him, tapped him on the shoulder and smiled as he turned to look at her.
"My friends seem to have gone out while I was away," Freddy said to him. "Did they leave any message for me, by any chance?"
"Iíll check, Miss." She handed him her business card so heíd have her name in front of him while he checked. He was back quickly with a folded piece of paper in his hand. She took it from him, gave him another smile, then turned away to read the note. It was from Max.
"You werenít back and we needed to eat, so weíve gone around the corner to a little French Bistro called ĎCroque Monsieur." Come and meet us there. Max"
She thanked the doorman and set out briskly but only got a few feet before she turned around and approached the building again.
"Excuse me, which way is the restaurant called Croque Monsieur?" she asked her new friend at the door. He directed her and she set off again.
It was, literally, around the corner and around the corner again. Like children, denied the opportunity to cross the street, the stayed on the continuous sidewalk until she was there. It seemed a gay place, people crowding the bar and filling the small tables inside and outside on the sidewalk. The lights were moderately low and there were candles everywhere. Music from a jukebox blared jazz. There seemed to be bursts of laughter from all sides. She stood gazing in the window, trying to spot Max or his sister, but she couldnít see them. Finally, sure they must be in the rear of the place, she took the two steps down and entered the bistro.
It was even more densely crowded than it had appeared to be from her place at the window. She edged her way through the crowded corridor between bar and tables keeping an eye out for the others. It took her a few minutes to make her way to the rear of the restaurant, but there was no sign of either Max or Brianna, not at the bar, nor at a table or in a booth. A waitress came briskly out of the kitchen, nearly colliding with Freddy where she stood.
"Ooops, sorry, Maíamselle."
"Oh, not a problem." The waitress was already moving away from her. "Wait a minute, Miss. Miss." The waitress stopped and turned to look at her. "Iím looking for two friends who said theyíd be here, but I donít see them. Do you have another room, a dining room?"
"Nah, this is it, Maíamselle."
"Why do you keep calling me that?"
"Weíre a French joint."
"And thereís no where else here they might be seated?"
"Nah. Like I told you, this is it." She turned away again and continued her trek to the table she was serving. Freddy stood where she was, unsure of her next course of action. Then she followed in the waitressí wake and headed past her for the door.
Outside, she checked the occupants of the street-side tables just to be sure she hadnít missed something. Max was definitely not there. Not knowing what else to do, Freddy headed back to the apartment building.
She had just reached the awning that stretched from the curb to the doorway when she heard her name being called. She stopped and looked around, not seeing anyone she knew, when she heard her name again.
"Where are you?" she shouted.
"Down here, silly," she heard Max say. This time she let her eyes drift lower, to the cars parked along the avenue. There, in a faded gray Chevy, sat Max and Brianna. "Get in," Max said. "Weíre going for a drive."
"I donít think so, Max. Iím tired. I just came from that French place and you werenít there."
"It was too crowded. We couldnít talk."
"Well, Iím really tired, Max. I..." she hesitated. She wanted to tell him about Mikhael, but she didnít want to talk about this in front of Maxís sister.
"Get in," Brianna growled from the driverís seat. It was too much an order to be ignored and Freddy immediately opened the back door and dropped down onto the seat. She pulled the door hard after her, slamming it. "Good. Now we can get out of here."
Brianna started the car and deftly pulled it away from the curb and into the dynamic traffic on the avenue. They were headed north and Freddy could see that Maxís sister drove like a race car driver, huddled over the wheel, both hands clenching the steering wheel, eyes glued to the road for any opportunity to speed forward, to advance to the next rung in the race for prominence.
"Where are we going?" Freddy asked.
"Somewhere not crowded," Max said. "Weíre starving. You must be also."
"Iím... all right. A bit squeamish, actually."
"You? I donít believe it."
"Something happened, Max."
"What? What happened? Where? When?"
"My brother the reporter, always asking too many pointed questions," Brianna ventured.
"Iíll tell you later. When weíre alone."
"Oh, donít mind me, children. You can talk."
"I donít like your tone, Brianna," Freddy said, instantly regretting it.
"With luck, my dear, itís the last night Iíll be spending here with the two of you, so donít mind me. Iím just the chauffeur."
Max, his body turned in the front seat to look at Freddy, winked. The gesture pulled the corners of his mouth up into that sweet smile she so enjoyed. She waved him back toward her and sat way back in her seat. Max turned to look at Brianna, and he cocked his head in Freddyís direction.
"Sure. Go ahead. Iíll warn you if thereís a quick stop." Brianna sounded cynical, but Freddy didnít mind that suddenly.
Max pushed himself forward and up and compelled his body over the back of the front seat. His head and his shoulders collided with the back seat, but his legs stayed up in the air as he struggled to complete his move. Freddy reached for them and pulled them onto her lap, and this caused Max to slip off the back seat and onto the floor. The absurdity of this enterprise sent him, and Freddy, into gales of laughter, the first sound of laughter since theyíd gotten the news about his parentsí deaths.
He righted himself and finally wound up on the seat next to her. His hair was a mess and his tie was askew. She reached out a hand to help make him presentable again, smoothing his hair back while he fiddled with his necktie.
"Thatís better," she said. They smiled at one another briefly, the laughter behind them now.
"Thanks." He took her hand. "Now, what happened?"
Quietly, in a voice too low for Brianna to share her words, she told Max about her encounter with Mikhael. Brianna snapped on the radio, finding a station that played loud rock music, completely drowning out Freddyís words from the front seat. Freddy initially reacted to this intrusion with anger, but that was quickly assuaged as she understood the other womanís motive: she was giving Freddy the privacy cover she needed.
When she had finished her short tale, Max put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close to his side. He whispered to her that things would be all right, that Mikhael was no threat. He said the things she needed a man to say and he said them without urging or cues. He was there for her in her need and she felt grateful. She nestled into his side, her head against his shoulder, looking more fragile and breakable than she ever had at any time in her life.
"What am I doing?" she thought. "Iím supposed to be comforting him and heís comforting me."
When Brianna stopped the car, suddenly, it jarred Freddy out of her stagnant reverie.
"Find a place?" Max asked her trying to get through the music, but it drifted away as Brianna turned off the engine. "Find a place?" he asked again.
"Yeah. Looks decent. Letís try it."
Freddy took a look and had the sudden realization that she had no idea where they might be. It was a park, but she could hear rushing traffic nearby. The cottage they were parked in front of had a neon sign flashing the word "OPEN" on its gambrel roof. There were half a dozen cars in the lot. The three of them got out of the car and approached the eatery. They were greeted at the door by a diminutive woman who found them a quiet booth in the rear of the place and left to bring them a bottle of wine and a bottle of water.
"Very European," Freddy said. "Where are we?"
"On the Saw Mill Parkway," Brianna said. "I remembered this spot from years ago. Wasnít sure it would still be here, but it is."
"Well, itís perfect, Brie," Max added.
With the wine in hand, they ordered dinner and in silence ate it. When Max went to the Menís Room, Freddy opened her bag and handed Brianna the passport sheíd been holding.
"Yeah, thanks," Brianna said.
"Youíve been a brick about me, really," Freddy said. "Sorry if I was a bit over the top."
"I get it. I do. And Iím leaving tomorrow, back to old Blighty. Youíll have him all to yourself, Freddy."
"You donít mind...?"
"I mind a lot, but Iím willing to risk it. He seems to really love you. I donít get it, but maybe I will one day."
"Max is a special man, Brianna. You donít really know him."
"Well, I thought I did. Maybe I will sometime."
"I hope so." Max was back with them then.
"You hope so, what?" he asked Freddy.
"I hope weíll see lots of your sister when we get back to England."
"Back to England?" Max asked. "Whoís going back?"
"Brianna is. And we are."
"Brianna is, sure. But why would we go back?"
"We have to go back. My work isnít complete and you..."
"I have no work."
"What about Drew, Max?" Brianna asked.
"Iíll write to him, explain it all."
"Thatís not good enough," Brianna said.
"Itís what Iím prepared to do. I donít want to go through another of those painful breakups. Paul was enough."
"You canít just walk out that way. We donít do things like that."
"Our family, you mean? Well, sis, weíre the family now and weíre changing our ways."
"Donít be flippant."
"Iím not. Iím serious. Itís over for me. Iím going back to school. Iím going to make something of myself. Freddy is here for me and sheíll help me through this."
"Freddy is an outsider, Max. Sheíll never understand us."
"Freddy gets me."
"Freddy isnít one of us." Brianna was angry and it showed.
"This is my decision, Brie, and Iím sticking with it."
"Youíre going to sit there and let him do this, arenít you?" Brianna demanded of Freddy. "This is what you want? A limp-wristed mind that flits without responsibility from one open relationship to another?"
"Brianna, you donít understand him," Freddy said.
"Oh, no. Donít do that to me. I understand him. He just went from being my brother, my grandmotherís favorite, to being a little, unfeeling whore. My blood is boiling now and nothing would make me happier than to never see him again."
"Brie, be sensible. Calm down."
"Donít even think that you can talk to me unless you come to your senses and act like a responsible man."
"Iíve made my decision. Itís my decision, all mine, no one elseís."
"Well, in a week of disappointments, brother mine, you have provided me with the deepest and most hurtful one of all. Congratulations." She crossed her arms over her chest, pouted, then let herself relax again. "The car leaves in two minutes. Be in it or find your own way back to the city." She stood up and headed out the door.
"Did she pay the bill?" Max asked Freddy.
"Well, we better do it and quick," he said waving to the waitress. "I know my sister and she means what she says."