Ever Your Servant
how retail really sucks
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Geraint McKellar is suspicious of the tall dark Frenchman who's suddenly showed up at Weatherstons' Department Store. He's pretty sure Maximillien Lambert, owner of the store's new Cyber Café, is a weirdo--possibly with a small sociopathic twist. And he doesn't much like the fact that the Slick Monsewer has taken a shine to his favourite blonde, either...
“Forgive me, gentlemen,” said Lambert, turning back to them. He extended his left hand, and clasped each of theirs in turn. “Mr. Cowan. Mr. Hussein.” Geraint noticed Said folded his hands behind his back as soon as Lambert released him. Tom chafed his wrist and flexed his fingers. “I see you were admiring my Black Madonna,” said the Monsewer.
Geraint glanced up at the counter frieze, taking a hard second look at the babe bursting out of the tree. She didn’t look a damn bit like the Holy Virgin to him. But he’d been raised by Presbyterian Scots, so what did he know?
He turned back to find Lambert studying him closely. “The cult of the Black Virgin thrives to this day in certain regions of France, Mr. McKellar. She is the Mother of moonlit forests and arcane mysteries. Some say She accompanied the Romany back along the trade routes from the East, where She was worshipped as the Dark Mother Kali. I myself know of a sacred oak tree in the Jura, now more than four hundred fifty years old, that She is said to inhabit. Of course, to the faithful, Her presence infuses all things. Sancta Maria. Kali Ma. Is She sweeter by one name or the other?” Lambert’s eyes glittered weirdly, and the cadence of his singsong voice reverberated in Geraint’s chest.
It was way surreal, like being sucked into the vortex of a Salvador Dali painting. Said and Tom shifted uncomfortably. Geraint stared at the floor. It was quiet for a beat or two more before Said spoke up.
“Quite a place you’ve got here, uh, Max,” he told the Monsewer.
Lambert’s lips furled. “I am not displeased with it.”
“It might,” suggested Geraint, “be a touch scoobety-doo-ahhh for Sal’s liking.”
Tom shot him a sidelong glance.
Lambert cast his eyes about the Cafe, as though he were giving the question careful consideration. At length his gaze returned to Geraint. He cocked his head to one side. “How well did you know Sal, Mr. McKellar? I think he would have liked it a great deal.”
“Apparently I didn’t know him as well as you.”
“Nor as well as Mademoiselle Lachance, perhaps, hmm?”
Geraint gave him a sharp look.
“That is the name of your lovely blonde friend, isn’t it? And where is she this evening, by the way?”
Geraint shrugged. “Computers aren’t Joelle’s bag.”
“Quel dommage.” Lambert raised his hand and Dana Newman hurried over with a tray of wine. “Gentlemen—you must try this vintage. It is called vin jaune—yellow wine. It is made only in the Franche-Comte, a province of Eastern France, and can be duplicated nowhere else.” He pressed glasses into their hands. “Please, enjoy. You must give me your opinions later. Until then.” Their host nodded. With a graceful pivot he headed off in the direction of the counter.
Geraint swallowed from his glass and grimaced. “Rich and tallbodied, with a slimy continental bouquet. I’ve had better cooking sherry.”
“Geez Louise. I actually felt a bone move in my hand when he shook it,” said Said.
“Hell of a grip,” concurred Tom. “And what was with the Religious History Moment? That was intense.” He took a sip of his wine. “Hey,this is pretty good.”
“Where is Joelle, anyway?” Said asked Geraint. “She would’ve appreciated the little goddess au gratin interlude.”
“I left her in the Shop. She said she might come over after a bit.”
“She doesn’t want to see it,” said Tom.
“It’ll still be here tomorrow.” Geraint turned to scan the crowd.
“Hey, where’d Lambert go?”