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In 1204 A.D., the Fools' Guild is in hiding, under attack from the forces of Pope Innocent III. Theophilos and Claudia, jesters with the Guild, are sent to enlist the help of a former guild member - the minstrel Folquet, now the abbot Folq at a Cistercian monastery - to intercede with the pope on their behalf. But while they are at the abbey pleading their case, a gruesome murder takes place - a monk is killed in the librarium and a cryptic message written on the wall in his ...
In 1204 A.D., the Fools' Guild is in hiding, under attack from the forces of Pope Innocent III. Theophilos and Claudia, jesters with the Guild, are sent to enlist the help of a former guild member - the minstrel Folquet, now the abbot Folq at a Cistercian monastery - to intercede with the pope on their behalf. But while they are at the abbey pleading their case, a gruesome murder takes place - a monk is killed in the librarium and a cryptic message written on the wall in his blood.
In the wake of the murder, Folq issues an ultimatum to Theophilos. If he learns the meaning of the message and finds the killer, Folq will help the Guild. But if the Jester fails, Folq will have the pope declare the Guild anathema. With the future of the Guild on the line, Theophilos, his wife, and their apprentice go off in search of Folquet's past and the meaning of the message, uncovering a long-ago series of events that were as deadly then as they are proving to be now.
You know how some people are born to Greatness? Well, Bobbie Faye Sumrall woke up one morning, kicked Greatness in the teeth, kneed it in the balls, took it hostage, and it's been begging for mercy ever since.
—a former Louisiana mayor after Bobbie Faye accidentally ran her car into his office, knocking pages of fraud evidence into the street, which helped land him in Federal prison
Something wet and spongy plunked against Bobbie Faye's face and she sprang awake, arms pinwheeling. "Damn it, Roy, you hit me with a catfish again and I'm gonna—" Whoa. Everything was dark in her cramped trailer. There was no catfish, no little brother Roy pretending innocence. Of course she'd been dreaming, because Roy was twenty-six now, not ten. Still a complete pain in the ass, though.
She swiped at the cold rivulets of wetness running down her face. "What was that?" she muttered to no one in particular. "And why the hell am I wet?"
"You gots a s'imming pool inside."
Bobbie Faye squinted in the half-dark and focused on Stacey, her five-year-old niece, whose blond pigtails were haloed in the blue bug light emanating from just outside the trailer window. Then she peered at the wet Nerf bat Stacey dropped to the floor.
Check that. A Nerf bat floating a good two inches above the lime green shag carpet.
"Shit!" Bobbie Faye stood, flinching as the icy water covered her ankles. "Fuck. Damn fuck fuckity shit."
"Mamma says you shouldn't cuss so much."
"Yeah? Well your mamma should quit drinking, too, kid, but that ain't likely to happen either."
Shit. That was evil. She checked Stacey's reaction, but her niece was preoccupied with the soggy Nerf bat again and hadn't seemed to hear. Thank God. She didn't mean to harm the little rug rat. And how was she supposed to remember to be nice at four-freaking a.m.? Who the hell would expect her to be nice anyway? Lori-freaking-Ann, that's who. Her pill-popping, wine-swigging lush of a little sister whose plastered-on Grace Kelly smile made her look efficient and serene, even when she wobbled into a wall and fell on her ass.
Bobbie Faye never got to look serene.
Sonofabitch. And today was the day the Social Services lady was scheduled to come by. At four-thirty that afternoon. To judge whether Bobbie Faye was providing Stacey with a safe and stable home. Bobbie Faye shuddered as the icy water lapped at her ankles. Somehow, she was supposed to fix . . . whatever the hell this mess was . . . in time to preside at the opening ceremony of the Contraband Days Festival and get back before four-thirty to prove she could be a good foster parent while Lori Ann was pulling her court-ordered four-month drying-out stint at the Troy House.
Oh, flipping yippee.
Water splashed against her knees, and she looked down at Lori-Ann's little ankle biter stomping on the carpet as they squish-squished their way down the hall.
"Your hippos are s'imming." Stacey laughed, pointing at the glow-in-the-dark hippos dancing across Bobbie Faye's thin white cotton PJs. Then the monster child jumped again, hard, splashing water up to Bobbie Faye's elbows.
"For Christ's sake, Stacey, if you hop around one more time, I'm gonna turn you into a frog."
Stacey giggled, but at least she stopped jumping.
Bobbie Faye stood in front of the cramped utility closet of her tiny, dark trailer and glared at the culprit: her washing machine, run amok. Water geysered from somewhere behind the vibrating piece-of-crap appliance. If she'd had a gun, she'd have shot it. Several times. Happily. She twisted knobs, pressing buttons broken so long ago, there was no telling what they had originally been meant to do.
She wanted to stomp or snarl that this was so not happening to her, but she was awake enough now to be mature in front of Stacey. She could do mature. She was twenty-eight years old, the oldest sibling and the one the other two constantly turned to when they screwed up; of course she could do mature. And solve problems. She was a paragon of problem-solving, and she slammed her fist down on the machine, hoping to dislodge whatever it was that was causing the crisis. The machine shuddered, the water gushed higher, and in that moment, seriously mature went straight to hell. Bobbie Faye hauled off and kicked the machine, then yelped and squirmed in pain because frozen toes do not take too well to sudden impact with metal.
Bobbie Faye squeezed her eyes shut, hopping on the other foot and biting her lip to keep from spouting a new stream of expletives. Way to use a brain cell, genius. Stacey took one gander at the hopping and went straight back to jumping with the enthusiasm of a five-year-old on a post-Easter-morning sugar high, soaking everything in her path.
And this is the kid who throws a tantrum if I even look like it's time for her bath.
There were two things Bobbie Faye knew for certain. One, a day without disaster would be a day in someone else's life. And two, she was going to kill her brother Roy for not showing up to fix the washing machine like he'd promised.
She sloshed through the kitchen to the back door and opened it, hoping the water would rush out; it barely trickled. The trailer floor had already sagged below the threshold, turning her ancient trailer into a bowl.
Wonderful. The bathtub leaks, the trailer doesn't.
Bobbie Faye slumped a moment, barely resisting the urge to pound her head against the door frame. This was her one day off. She'd worked extra hours all week just to be able to relax this morning and take her time to get ready for the festival's opening ceremonies. She hadn't thought anything could top the thunderstorm that blew through on last year's opening day and knocked a tree onto her first truly pretty car, a slightly banged-up purple Nissan 300ZX. Sure, it was used, high mileage, and pulled heavily to the left, but it was shiny, with only two rust spots. The tree could have fallen in any other direction and nothing would have been damaged. Of course, that would mean this was someone else's life. It didn't help when she learned she had, just that day, received a cancellation notice from her car insurance. (Not a single person, not even her friends, ever believed she really hadn't seen that fire truck barreling through the intersection with all of its lights on and sirens blazing. She thought the fireman was clearly at fault, though she did feel pretty awful when, to avoid hitting her, he slid into a light pole, knocking it through the roof of the grocery store on the corner.) Her insurance company paid all of the claims. And canceled her.
But this year? It was going to be different; she was going to have a pleasant, peaceful day if she had to maim and kill to get it. There were no storms, the insurance was paid up on the rickety cracker-box-on-wheels Honda Civic she'd bought to replace her cool little sports car, she had planned to have plenty of time to get ready and avoid the traffic jams, she had washed her clothes last night and all she'd had to do was toss them into the dryer. . . .
So, of course, she was standing in two inches of water inside her trailer.
There was no way in hell she was bailing all of this by herself. Roy was going to get his sorry ass over here and help. She went to the phone to call him, flipped on the living room light and gasped. Waves rippled across the floor. Water slapped at the bottom of the more-shabby-than-chic sofa and chair and filled the video bay of her ancient VCR set on the low shelf below the TV. And on the carpet near the sofa where she'd left it was her mom's Contraband Days scrapbook. Drowned.
Bobbie Faye's face hurt with the strain of holding back tears. Her mother had kept that scrapbook for more than twenty years. When Bobbie Faye was seven, her mom had let her glue a pirate eye patch on the cover, denoting the history of the festival. Well, her mom had been drinking and hadn't really seemed to notice the eye patch and sequins until a few days later, but she let Bobbie Faye keep them on there and showed them proudly to her friends, so that was almost as good, especially when her mom made her an eye patch to wear to that year's pirate costume contest.
Pirates, Bobbie Faye had learned the way other kids learned catechism, had found the multitude of bayous and marshlands in south Louisiana perfect for transporting loot and contraband into the growing territory. The pirates had hidden in south Louisiana for the same reasons the Cajuns had fled there from Nova Scotia: sanctuary. It was a place to be whoever the hell you wanted to be. A close-knit, family sort of place, where watching your neighbor's back was as standard as having a nodding awareness that they just might be crazy as loons, and that was okay, too.
After years of digging up half of Calcasieu Parish in a vain attempt to find the buried treasure, the locals eventually, reluctantly, gave up. Well, not entirely. Bobbie Faye remembered when she was a kid and learned there was a place named Contraband Bayou which was said to have been the home of a few pirates who supposedly hid jewels and gold somewhere back where the bayou ended. She tagged along when Roy and Lori Ann's dad took them fishing because he was going to go right by the famous bayou and Bobbie Faye was sure if he'd just let her out, she'd find that treasure. All she got for her trouble was a bad case of poison sumac and a good view of a bunch of deeply dug holes. So much for history.
As it was, history settled lazily into myth, which eased along into celebration, and the Contraband Days Festival was born. It was a crazy, lively festival where everyone dressed up as pirates for twelve days in May for parties, music, dancing, and all sorts of events. Tractor pulls! Races! Parades! Buccaneers! There were "official" pageants every year, but Bobbie Faye's mom (and her mom before her, and so on) were the unofficial "Queens"—a title started so far back in time, no one really remembered how it was handed down generation to generation. Bobbie Faye's mom had kept a scrapbook of all her Contraband memories . . . and gave it to Bobbie Faye just before she died, when she had also passed her the duty of being Queen.
Bobbie Faye pulled the scrapbook out of the water, her heart sinking as she slowly turned the first sodden page. Spidery scrawl ran in an inky river, washing most of the words to nothingness; the water had faded the old photos to murky shadows and all of the mementos were a soggy mess. The once-dried petals of a rose her mother had worn on her last parade fell apart under Bobbie Faye's touch.
Fury slammed her adrenaline up another notch; at any moment, the back of her head was going to pop clean off, especially as the cold water wicked farther up her PJs. The scrapbook was Bobbie Faye's hold on a tenuous place, the "before" as she liked to think about it. Before her mom started wearing the big floppy hats when her hair was getting inexplicably thinner and thinner, before she started wearing the weird combination of clothes and her morning eggs smelled just a shade more like rum than eggs ought to smell, before Bobbie Faye recognized her mom was a little too dancey-happy most days, jitterbugging on the coffee table (before it broke), before Bobbie Faye knew what the word cancer meant. She looked back at the destroyed scrapbook she held. If Roy had shown up like he promised and fixed the damned washing machine, this wouldn't have happened. Bobbie Faye stared out her front window, past the gravel road, and fantasized briefly that she could zero in on wherever Roy was with a laser intensity that would fry his ass on the spot.
There was just no telling where he was, and getting him on the cell phone would take an act of God. Check that. It would take an act of some willing life-sized Barbie type. He could be anywhere: his fishing camp south of her trailer park, where there were hundreds of little bayous and marshy wetlands (or as Roy put it, plenty of escape routes); or, just north of her trailer park, hiding in a hole-in-the-wall bar somewhere in the muddy industrial city of Lake Charles, a place Bobbie Faye thought of as the kind of cranky, independent southern town that had never really given a rip what its image might be, although if someone had labeled it "home of the hard drinkers who make Mardi Gras revelers look like big fluffy candy-asses," it might have staggered to attention and saluted. Knowing Roy the way she did, she figured he wasn't anywhere near his own apartment in the heart of the city. Probably in some stupid poker game or, God help him, at one of his many girlfriends' places. He can run, she thought, but he can't hide.
Copyright © 2007 by Toni McGee Causey. All rights reserved.
Posted December 9, 2008
In 1204 the Fool¿s Guild leadership is very concerned that Pope Inncentius (Innocent III) is outraged by their secular interference in what he deems church business. To reduce the papal hostility, Theophilos the Fool and his wife Claudia, also of the Fool's Guild, travel to Le Thoronet Abbey to see former member Cistercian Abbot Folc, who performed as the legendary Folquet. He welcomes his friends, but is hesitant to get caught between his former and present life as that has no future. --- That night, someone slashes the throat of a monk leaving a note on the wall written in the dead man¿s blood addressed to the abbot when he was a troubadour: ¿FOLQUET: COLD IS THE HAND THAT CRUSHES THE LARK'. Upset Folc offers his visitors a deal his intervention with the papal enemies in exchange for Theo and Claudia uncovering the identity of the killer threatening him. The married Fools agree and look into Folc¿s past as Folquet for clues. They visit his wife and learn that the abbot was a womanizer and that the bloody message comes from a song. As they travel to France, a killer seems one step ahead of them leaving corpses for them to find and only being talented Fools have the married duet stayed alive so far. --- More history than mystery although the whodunit is clever and used as the device that enables the lead couple to escort readers on a tour of the early thirteenth century Fool¿s Guild and the Church in France. The story line is fast-paced, but it is the appeal of the Fool¿s Family (Theo, Claudia, and to a degree their children Portia and Helga) that make the tale fun to follow as their performances provide insight and comedic relief. Readers who appreciate a fine medieval tale with a mystery enhancing the period piece will enjoy the sixth performance of Alan Gordon¿s fabulous Fool¿s Guild. --- Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 4, 2009
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