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"Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future." – Oscar Wilde
Michael LeClaire was late for work that day.
His alarm went off, and he flung an arm out from under the covers and quickly silenced it. Turning on his side, he studied his wife's back as she lay beside him. The covers left her exposed from the waist up, affording him an unobstructed view of her fair skin, her long auburn hair and the small butterfly tattooed on the back of her shoulder. He propped himself up on his elbow and gently ran a hand down her side as he kissed her behind her ear.
"You taste just as good as you did the night we met," he murmured.
Maggie gave a little snort. "You didn't kiss me the night we met. That wasn't until later."
"But I wanted to." Michael ran kisses down Maggie's neck and across her shoulder.
"Please don't stop, Michael," she whispered.
Michael didn't stop. After making love to his wife, he stumbled to the shower to clean up and get ready for work. By the time he kissed her goodbye and stepped out the back door, his suit impeccably pressed, his face immaculately clean-shaven and his long silver mane carefully pulled back into a neat ponytail, he was most definitely late.
He waved to a couple of students who shouted greetings to him as he walked from his car to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library on the Yale campus, where he worked as a curator. The blue-haired young woman at the front desk gave him her usual "Mornin', Dr. L," when he stopped by the desk to see if he had any messages.
"Good morning, Amy."
"You had some visitors this morning," she said.
"Who? Did they leave a message?"
Amy shrugged. "No. Three guys. The one who spoke had a British accent."
Michael furrowed his brow. "Did you get their names?"
"No, he just asked if you were in, and when I said you weren't here yet, he just said okay and they left."
"Next time, try to get a little more information, if you would."
"Sure, Dr. L."
Michael walked downstairs to his office and flung his briefcase onto one of the chairs facing his desk, which was piled high with papers, folders and books. He was frequently teased by the other staff members about the state of his office. Stephanie, one of the librarians, would say that she couldn't understand how he could always look so neat and his office like such a disaster. "I know exactly where everything is," was Michael's standard response.
Michael checked his voicemail. No messages from anyone with a British accent. No e-mails out of the ordinary, either. He sat back in his chair and stared across the room at the door. Someone from his past? Anyone he would actually want to see again? If it was so important, wouldn't they have left a message? That gave him a bad feeling.
Whoever it was, they would probably be back.
* * *
Maggie pulled open the door to find three men on her front porch. She didn't recognize any of them, and they weren't wearing any kind of uniforms or nametags, so she assumed they were either selling something or proselytizing. "No, thanks, I gave at the office," she said, and tried to shut the door.
The man closest to her spoke with a British accent. "Is Dr. LeClaire home?"
Maggie eyed him warily. "Who wants to know?"
"We need to speak with him. It's a matter of utmost importance."
Maggie didn't want to admit to some strange men that she was home alone. "May I tell him who's here?"
"Tell him it's some old comrades from way back. Way, way back."
"Way, way back? Like centuries back?" Maggie asked, narrowing her gaze.
"Oh, ha, ha, don't be silly," the man said, his laugh sounding uncomfortable and artificial.
Maggie's eyes widened and she moved quickly to try to slam the door in his face, but he moved even more swiftly to block the door with his hand. Maggie's eyes were nearly bulging with fright now. "Get your hand off my door, and get off my porch, or I'm calling the police. NOW."
"Mrs. LeClaire, I assure you, I mean no harm to you, or to Dr. LeClaire. We are in need of his assistance, and it is most urgent that we speak with him."
"Get out." Maggie shoved him and slammed the door, swiftly locking it and slamming the deadbolt. "I mean it!" she yelled. She ran upstairs to Gabriel's bedroom, which overlooked the front yard, and watched out the window as the three men walked down the front walk to the street and walked away. Once she was certain they were gone, she went back downstairs to call Michael at work.
"There were three guys here looking for you," Maggie said. "I sent them packing."
"Did they say who they were?"
"They wouldn't say. Just said they had to speak to you 'urgently.' The one who spoke said they knew you from 'way, way back,' and when I asked if he meant centuries back, he acted really cagey. You know, Michael, the last time I met someone who said they knew you from 'way, way back,' I ended up getting kidnapped."
"Should I come home?"
"No, they left. I'm not so worried about myself, I just wanted you to know, in case they come looking for you. Be careful, Michael."
Michael didn't think this was the best time to tell her that they had already been at the Beinecke looking for him. "The kids were going to have fencing practice after I get off work, but we can come straight home if it will make you feel better."
"No, I'm fine. Don't deprive the kids. Just keep an eye out."
Michael did keep an eye out when he left the library to get some lunch, but the rest of the day went rather uneventfully and it finally slipped his mind. He had actually lost track of the time when Amy buzzed him on his telephone. "Your fan club is on their way down to your office," she said. "I tried to stop them, but they just crashed through the barrier."
Michael smiled. "No problem." Michael's "fan club" was his three fencing students – his son Gabriel, niece Vanessa and Gabriel's best friend Alex. He heard them coming before they burst through the door to his office, and he put a finger to his lips. "You're in a library."
"Sorry, Dad." Gabriel flopped down in a chair facing Michael's desk, his legs sprawled in front of him. At fourteen years old, he was already six-foot-six, towering over both his parents. He had an unruly mop of dark brown hair, intense dark eyes, full lips and his father's Roman nose. Although still in the throes of a gangly adolescent awkwardness, it was already becoming obvious that he was on the threshold of blossoming into a heartbreakingly handsome young man. But that wasn't obvious to Gabriel – he just felt like a giraffe.
Gabriel's cousin Vanessa grabbed the other chair, leaving Alex to loiter by a bookcase near the door. "We're going to Germany!" she announced, nearly bouncing in her chair.
"Who is 'we'?" Michael asked.
"All of us! And Aunt Maggie!"
"How is this?"
"I won a trip to Aachen," Gabriel said. "It was for that contest where I had to write an essay about the Holy Roman Empire. I get to take four people – you, Mom, Vanessa and Alex."
Michael looked at Vanessa and Alex. "Your parents will have to approve it."
"Uncle Michael, I'm twenty-two," Vanessa said. "I don't need my parents to approve it."
"My mom already said it was okay," Alex said.
Michael looked around at them. "Everyone else already knows about this? Why am I the last one to hear about it?"
"I guess you just have bad luck, Dad."
Vanessa burst out laughing. "Actually, Gabby, your dad has the best luck of anybody."
"Actually, you're not the last," Gabriel amended.
Vanessa looked at Gabriel. "How fast can you learn German?"
"I can speak German," Alex said.
Gabriel rolled his eyes at him. "Dude, one year of high school German is hardly fluent."
"Don't worry, I'm sure Uncle Michael can get us around," Vanessa said. "You can speak German, can't you, Uncle Michael?"
"I suppose I can, a little."
"How many languages do you know, Dr. LeClaire?" Alex asked.
"I bet he doesn't know Hungarian," Vanessa said. "Hungarian's supposed to be really hard, because it's not like any of the other Indo-European languages."
"I wouldn't put any money on that bet if I were you," Gabriel said.
Michael got up and looked around for his briefcase. "Over here, Dad," Gabriel said, using his foot to point to where it rested against the leg of his desk. Michael walked over to retrieve it. "Ready, kids?"
They walked upstairs to the front desk, where the three young people retrieved their bags of fencing equipment and followed Michael to the gymnasium where they practiced. They went to the dressing rooms to change into their fencing whites. Gabriel and Alex were the first to finish and return to the floor of the fencing salon. They dropped their bags and Gabriel fished in his for his jacket, which he put on.
"Don't look now," Alex whispered, which, of course, meant that Gabriel was going to turn and look. He saw his three nemeses from his high school – Brad Whitford, Jason White and Chris McKinley – enter the fencing salon. Gabriel closed his eyes and turned away. Did he have no safe haven from these cretins? He had never been able to figure out what he had done to make these boys single him out for their cruel amusement. Perhaps it was his height, his quietness or his good grades. Alex also was on the receiving end of their bullying, partly because he was Gabriel's best friend and partly because of his red hair and his tendency to turn red when he was angry.
"Hey, look, it's Ginger and Goliath," Brad said, laughing. "What're you doing here?"
Gabriel faced his tormentors, literally looking down on them and frowning. "I have every right to be here. My dad and my aunt work for the university. What are you doing here?"
"We came here to practice."
"Why don't you go practice somewhere else?"
"It's a free country."
"We've never seen you at the fencing school," Jason said. "Who's your instructor?"
"My dad," Gabriel said.
"Who's your dad?"
One of the university students overheard and, sensing trouble brewing, came over to assist the two younger boys. "His dad's Dr. LeClaire, the curator at the Beinecke Library," he said.
Brad laughed. "Your dad's a librarian?"
Gabriel bristled. "He's not a librarian."
"He can kick your ass," Alex said.
Michael was just returning from the dressing room when one of the Yale students intercepted him and whispered something to him. Michael nodded and headed in their direction.
A couple more university students had wandered over to see what was going on. One of them told Brad, "The guy with the ponytail is the man to beat."
"Yeah?" Brad said. "Is he the instructor?"
"No, he just practices here."
Alex turned away so the others couldn't see he was trying hard not to laugh.
Michael approached the group of boys and addressed Brad. "You're a new face," he said. "What's your name, son?"
"Well, Brad Whitford, let's see what you've got. Épée?"
"Foil," Brad replied.
Michael looked around. "Anyone have a foil I can borrow?"
One of the Yale students handed him one. "You can use mine, sir."
"Grazie." Michael took it from him, donned his mask and saluted Brad before assuming the starting position; but instead of holding his left arm behind himself, he placed his hand theatrically on his hip. "En garde."
When Brad was ready, Michael made the first attack, before Brad could think to respond, easily scoring a touch to his chest. "Touché."
Brad stamped his foot in vexation.
"Two out of three," Michael said.
Brad assumed the en garde position. Michael executed a feint, drawing Brad's attack, which he then easily deceived, beating Brad back swiftly.
"Holy crap," Chris said. "Is he an Olympic gold medalist or something?"
Gabriel looked over at Chris and Jason, who were watching, slack-jawed, their facial expressions hovering somewhere between admiration and fright.
"He's freakin' Zorro," Jason said. "He's the wickedest thing I've ever seen."
Gabriel smiled, obviously enjoying the trouncing his tormentor was receiving at his father's hand. "No, not a gold medalist," he said blithely. "Just a fencing master."
Defeated a second time, Brad flailed his arms in an expression of frustration.
"Once more," Michael said. "You can do this."
Brad made the first attack, which Michael easily parried and responded with a counterattack. Flustered, Brad jabbed repeatedly in response, trying to machinegun through Michael's attack as Michael beat him back to the end of the strip, easily scoring a touch to Brad's midsection. Brad's frenzied jabbing brought on a roar of hysterical laughter from the onlookers.
Michael removed his mask. "How humiliating," he said. "Beaten by a librarian." He saluted Brad with his foil and handed it back to its owner. "Grazie."
"No problem, Dr. LeClaire," the student said with a grin, unable to hide his obvious glee at the younger boy's comeuppance.
Brad yanked off his mask and his mouth fell open. "That's your dad?"
"Can't you see the resemblance?" Alex said.
Gabriel smiled at Alex and they followed Michael to the other side of the fencing salon. Brad's voice could be heard saying to his friends, "How the hell was I supposed to know that was his dad? He's, like, a foot shorter!"
Gabriel caught up to Michael and put his arm around his shoulders. "Dad," he said, "you're the greatest."CHAPTER 2
"Let brotherly love abide in you, and do not forget to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." – Hebrews 13:1-2
Michael and Gabriel were greeted by the aroma of chicken parmesan when they walked through the back door of their house into the kitchen. "It smells like another culinary triumph," Michael said.
Maggie smiled. "After fifteen years of marriage, you've still got it," she said. "How do you do that?"
"I told you before, I only say what's in my heart."
"And he still kicks ass," Gabriel said. "Brad Whitford's, to be precise."
Maggie looked surprised. "That bully from school?" She turned to Michael. "What happened?"
Michael shrugged as he reached in a cupboard for a glass. "I just challenged him to a friendly little match."
"Brad had no idea who he was, or what he was in for," Gabriel said, laughing. "Dad mopped the floor with him. It was classic." He walked out of the kitchen.
Maggie leant close to Michael as he poured himself some water from a plastic jug and whispered, "What did those guys want with you?"
"I don't know. They apparently stopped by the Beinecke this morning before I got there, but they didn't leave a message."
Maggie's eyes widened. "You didn't tell me that."
"I didn't want you to worry."
"He said they were 'comrades' of yours."
"What did they look like?"
"Thirties-ish, probably. Physically fit, good-looking, average height, brown hair. Two had shorter, curly hair, the other had long, straight, lighter brown hair."
Michael gave a thoughtful frown and nodded. "Yeah, probably."
"What do they want?"
"I don't know – they won't tell anybody."
"Don't say anything to Gabriel," she whispered as she heard his footsteps approaching. Michael nodded.
Gabriel re-entered the kitchen. "Did you tell your mother about your trip?" Michael asked him.
"What trip?" Maggie said.
"We're going to Germany," Gabriel said. "My essay won me a trip. I can take four people."
"Aachen," Michael said to Maggie. "You'll like the cathedral."
Maggie looked slightly worried. "Is it safe?"
"Germany. Aren't they being overrun by Muslims?"
"Dad'll bring his swords," Gabriel quipped.
Maggie frowned at him. "This isn't funny." She turned to Michael. "Remember when I told you I wanted to go to Milan, and you said you were concerned for my safety? Remember our little exchange about being blown up by terrorists? Well, that was fifteen years ago, and it's much more likely to happen now. I've been following the news, Michael. Nowhere in Europe is safe these days."
"Maggie, we can't let fear of what might happen get in the way of living our lives. Don't you want to see the Aachener Dom while you still can?"
"I don't like the way you said that. It sounds like you're expecting Europe to fall."
"Wow, I thought I was sharing good news," Gabriel said. "I didn't realize it was going to be such a downer."
"It's not a downer, Gabriel," Michael said. "We're going to Aachen and we are going to have a good time." He put his arm around Maggie and lowered his voice. "Don't worry, cara mia, no one is going to dare mess with me and my boys."
* * *
"Did you know, the drinking age is lower in Germany," Alex said to Gabriel the next day at school, as Gabriel was getting some books out of his locker.
"Drinking is no big deal when you get to do it at home with your parents."
Gabriel shrugged. "We have wine at Sunday dinner and on holidays. It's an Italian thing."
"I thought your dad was French. Isn't LeClaire a French name?"
"We don't know what he is. He was raised in an orphanage by nuns."
"Why do you think I have no relatives on his side?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Heaven's Irregulars"
Copyright © 2018 Ria Dimitra.
Excerpted by permission of Aventine Press.
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