The Cupbearer

 

Emily has to find the Cupbearer. She went to Paris to spend the summer with her granduncle.  He has a secret and when she finds herself running from madmen in the labyrinth beneath the city, it’ll be up to her to uncover the past and find a lost piece of priceless art.

 

 

1

A Spy in the Museum

The clunky, white boot slammed into the jaw of the nameless and barely formed thug. Emily made small lines showing the air move around the girl’s leg.  She considered having blood spurt from the criminal’s nose, but instead returned her pencil to Ghost Girl, adding more detail to her utility belt and goggles.

Emily tried to keep her eyes on the page, but it was hard to not be distracted by footsteps on the third floor.  The pencil and paper was comfortable. She looked around Joe’s apartment- it was less so. She’d only arrived yesterday. Joe, her French uncle, who wasn’t actually French, had picked her up at the train station, finding her outside, clinging to a wall, avoiding the bustling crowds.

Emily didn’t like crowds, and Paris seemed to be full of them. As she heard the footsteps coming down the stairs, the ride in Joe’s car flashed before her eyes. There were horns beeping and narrow streets and those scooters swarming at every intersection, tiny motors buzzing. The most dangerous part of all had been Joe. See, he was old, really old. He probably didn’t have a license. How could he when he predated seatbelts?

He wasn’t her uncle either. He was her granduncle.  She’d come to spend the summer with him, mainly because her father didn’t know what else to do with her, but also because it was something her mom had always wanted for her, a summer in Paris. How enchanting? Living with an old man, she’d only met once. It was last year when her mom was no longer around to introduce them.

Emily’s pencil darkened in the scarf covering Ghost Girl’s face. Its tasseled end billowed in the wind like a smaller, more-practical cape.  She finished quickly and closed her notebook, putting it away as the door opened.

“Oh, you’re up,” Joe said in surprise as he came in. He went to the sink and washed his hands. Emily noticed the soap on his fingers turning red as he scrubbed.  “We have a few hours today. The boys will be handling lunch, so I thought you’d like to take in a museum.”

Emily looked at the sink. “Okay,” she answered. There was a certain smell in the air that she couldn’t place, but it’d come in with Joe. “What’ch you been doing?” She asked.

“Working in the restaurant,” he answered Joe ran a small Bistro and his apartment was above it.

“Huh. . . It’s just, I thought I heard you upstairs?” she asked staring at the sink. She’d heard him up their last night, even though he claimed it was only storage.

He was quiet for another moment. “Such squeaky floors in this building,” he muttered while drying his hands, avoiding her eyes and collecting his thoughts. He turned to her and bashfully explained, “What I do up there Emily, well it’s sort of private. Do you understand? Maybe I can tell you about it some other time?”

“Su-re,” she answered.

“Now to the museum, your father said you like art. Is that true?” Joe asked.

“Su-re,” she answered again, wondering how enthusiastic she could pretend to be.

Joe took his jacket out of the closet. “I prefer walking when I can. I don’t drive that often unless I have to,” he said.

All of Paris was probably thankful for that, Emily thought, pulling on her sneakers.

Joe watched her. He gave her an awkward nod. “Those will be good for today,” he said indicating the shoes. She worn them down to the restaurant last night. Joe hadn’t said anything to her. He didn’t have to. The look on his face was enough.

Emily just smiled.

She followed him downstairs and out to the busy sidewalk, going past the tables in front of the bistro. The crowds weren’t nearly as bad as at the train station, but there was still a constant flow of traffic. People hurried to their jobs, dressed in fashionable clothing and business suits.

When she looked back at the restaurant with its black awning, she noticed a boy, younger than her, but not by much, sitting on the curb. He wore a dirty, oversized jacket that hung loosely around his shoulders, long enough to wrap around his legs like a blanket. Despite his grimy clothing it was hard not to notice how striking he was with fine features and bright eyes. He’d been watching Emily and Joe. When she saw him, he averted his gaze, finding the pavement more interesting.

After a moment of staring anywhere but at Emily, the boy stood, brushed himself off and stepped into the street, crossing to the other side and vanishing into the crowd. Emily shrugged her shoulders as she followed her uncle down into a metro station. Joe was just as quick as anyone, not losing a single stride with age. Emily had to hurry to keep up.

He said very little on the metro, wanting to keep their destination a surprise. They got off and crossed the Seine with a crowd of tourists at the stone Pont-Royal Bridge. The elaborate building in front of them took up several city blocks.

They crossed the street, following a pedestrian walkway that separated a broad manicured park, from the main grounds of the museum. Emily noticed how the trees were lined like soldiers at attention with their leaves and branches cut into perfect squares.

They were walking beside what looked like a mansion from a Gothic novel, but as they turned the corner, Emily saw that it was a single wing of a massive building.

“This is the greatest art museum in the entire world,” her granduncle said pointing past an archway.  The building’s wings closed in on Joe and Emily from either side, creating a massive courtyard with a broad paved path running down the center.

“It’s changed a bit since the first time I saw it. You’ll find that much like the city itself; each generation manages to put their own mark on the Louvre. The flavors are layered, making them richer,” Joe said looking back.

Emily smiled at him, but didn’t say anything. There was so much to take in that it was overwhelming. And the crowds . . . there were so many people.

They crossed into the cour’ Napoleon where the glass pyramid towered above.  The crowds were moving in that direction, forming into a long line, waiting to buy tickets.

Joe didn’t go that way though. He moved towards a door in the center of one of the wings, where people were exiting. “Don’t we have to go in that way?” Emily pointed.

“There’s a senior citizen entrance over here,” Joe said.

“Really?” Emily asked.

“If the right guard is working, it’ll be an entrance for this senior citizen. I only want to show you one exhibit. These people,” he pointed to the crowd, “Will try to see the Mona Lisa and a dozen other important pieces, but they’ll hardly have time to appreciate any of it.”

They approached the door where a man in uniform was waiting.  He was old but not nearly as old as Joe. “Sir, this is not the way in,” he said.

Joe slowed his gait, and rolled his shoulders forward, moving more like someone of his advanced years. “I know, but I’m afraid I’ve left my jacket inside in the Salle Mollien. It’d be a shame to have to walk all the way around.  Perhaps you can see your way to letting an old man and his niece in.”  He casually held out his hand to the guard.

The guard looked over his shoulder then took Joe’s outstretched arm.  He spared only the briefest glance at his palm before putting something in his pocket, motioning Emily and Joe through. “Good luck finding your things,” he said.

As they walked away, Emily asked, “Did you just bribe that guy to let us in?”

“I tipped him for good service.  He’s on his feet all day. It’s only fair,” Joe said.

Emily looked back at the guard. He was helping a confused couple make sense of their guide book. While he was distracted, another person entered. He was small and quick, using the guard’s desk for cover. It was the boy from the sidewalk. He no longer wore the long coat, just a dark blue shirt and jeans. They were tattered, but not as wretched as the coat had been. Emily tried not to make it obvious that she saw him. She kept her eyes forward while tracking his progress down the hall till a shuffling crowd of museum patrons moved between them.

Joe led her past a number of white marble sculptures with empty eyes and faces full of emotion.  Other forms, carved from dark rock, stood between the broad windows looking out on the courtyard.  People gathered under the different pieces, watching as if waiting for the statues to move.

Emily was looking back to see if the boy was still behind her.  She felt his presence, felt someone watching.

At the end of the first room was a broad flight of stone stairs that split at the top in two directions.  Emily paused at the upper landing looking back. The boy was climbing the steps, staying close to the wall.

She followed her uncle into a room full of massive canvases, lit by a long line of skylights. “I wanted to show you the Romantics,” Joe said.

Emily looked around the room. There were scenes of people suffering and people fighting. “This is romantic?” she asked.

“It’s the name of the movement.” Joe said leading her to a painting of a woman with her breast bared while holding the French flag above her head.  “This is Liberty Leading the People.” There was smoke behind her and men armed with muskets and swords, charging forward into battle.

“It’s certainly big,” Emily said. The painting was more than twice her height and incredibly broad. “Who was she?” she asked.

“An idea, the thing they were fighting for, Liberty as the name says,” Joe answered.

“Wait she wasn’t a real person?” Emily turned to her uncle.

“At that moment, no.” Joe’s eyes were still on the woman.

Emily studied it for a moment, thinking of her own drawings. “But she looks so real.”

“I know it’s amazing. See what they call romanticism; it wasn’t just about love, but about the whole span of human emotion.”

Emily looked over her shoulder. She didn’t see the boy, but there were only a few places he could hide, the corners of the entrance or behind a crowd of people.  Curiosity got the better of her. “Uncle, could you tell me where the restroom is?”

“It’s back on the other side of the stairwell and around the corner,” Joe answered, not hiding his disappointment that she was running off.

“I’ll be right back,” Emily promised as she stepped away. She tried not to look around till she reached the stairs.  There were so many people, and more were coming up, flowing through the gallery like a slow moving river, nodding their heads as they looked this way and that.  It was through these people that she finally found him.

He wasn’t far from Joe, standing in front of a painting that looked like a scene from hell.  It was of men at sea with waves pounding on a tiny raft. They were attempting to survive, pale and huddled together near death. The boy looked almost as pale as the sailors. He sat down on one of the benches, looking at Joe who had done the same thing.

A small crowd of college students came together between them, discussing anything but the art they were there to see. They were the perfect cover for the boy and for Emily. She took the seat next to him, tapping him on the shoulder and asking, “Why are you following us?”

Emily enjoyed the stunned look on his face, repeating the question, “Why are you following us? I’ve seen you all day. You were waiting outside the bistro. Then you snuck in here.”

The boy glanced at her granduncle, “Please you can’t tell him.”

“Who Joe? Why not?” Emily asked, crossing her arms, trying to look tough.

“Because it’s my mission.”

Emily was unconvinced. She thought of calling out, but the boy brought his hands up and pleaded. “He has something, or knows the location of something, that my master is trying to find.”

“Your master?” Emily asked confused.

“Yes, he gave me this task.”

Emily shook her head, becoming convinced the kid was insane. “What’s this master think my uncle has?”

“Something very old and worth a great deal,” he said.

“So you’re trying to steal from my uncle. Is that it?”

“It doesn’t belong to him, but he knows where it is. I’m only supposed to watch him.”

“I don’t like this,” Emily said getting up.

“Please don’t tell him. My master will be so angry if he finds out. Please, I don’t mean him any harm. I’m just watching. How bad is that?” The boy was desperate.

Emily didn’t know what to do. She looked at Joe, wondering again what he did upstairs in his building.

Joe was tired of waiting. He glanced at his watch. Then he looked over and saw Emily in front of the Raft of the Medusa. He didn’t notice the boy walking away.  “The painter wasn’t there, but this is based on actual history,” he said as he came over.

Emily’s attention was on the boy, disappearing into the crowd.  “What’s that?” she asked.

Joe pointed. “These men were sailors left to drown after their cowardly officers abandoned them, taking the only life raft.”

“Oh,” Emily said.

Joe looked at her for a moment then said, “Come on. I need to get back to work.”