In Pursuit of Abraham the Sequel – First Chapter

Posted by on October 20, 2012

In Pursuit of Abraham the Sequel

A novel by Francine Fuqua

Chapter One:

Paris, France August 1947

Georges Moncel smiled as he handed the book he had just autographed to a large woman with wiry red hair. “I hope your daughter will enjoy the book, Madame, and thank you very much for your interest.”

He reached for the next book and felt Suzanne’s presence. The exotic fragrance she always wore enveloped him and memories rushed in. Suzanne extended her slender hand toward him. She still wore the large emerald encircled with diamonds—the emerald he had given her when he proposed to her so many years ago.

“Suzanne, I didn’t expect to see you here.”

“Of course, I came. I wish I could’ve been the first in line to congratulate you. I’ve been standing here a long time; so many people in line ahead of me. This is a successful book-signing. You are the talk of Paris, Georges. This is wonderful.”

Georges didn’t try to hide his sarcasm. “Not at all what you expected is it?” He glanced behind her and frowned. “I’m afraid I don’t have time to chit-chat. As you said, there’s a long line. How shall I sign this book? ‘To my dear ex-wife,’ or ‘For old time’s sake,’ or ‘To Suzanne, a dear old friend.’ What would you prefer?”

Suzanne swallowed hard, and her green eyes flashed. “To Suzanne’ will do just fine. May we please meet soon? The newspaper wants to interview you, and I’d like to set it up as soon as possible.” She handed him her business card. “I’m still editor-in-chief at Le Monde. Please call me there.” And she rushed out of the bookstore.

Georges was surprised that, two years later, anger still filled his gut. He glanced at the business card she had left on the table and noted that it read ‘Suzanne Moncel.’ It seems she didn’t marry the German, he thought to himself.

As he continued to hand out the signed copies of his novel to the never-ending line of customers, Georges struggled to smile and be pleasant. The bookstore manager approached the table and saved the day. “I’m sorry. These are the last books, Doctor Moncel. We’ve sold every copy. Shall I tell these customers to return in a couple of days? We should’ve received more books by then.”

Georges stood up and expressed his regrets to the customers himself. He loosened his tie, stretched his legs, and arched his shoulders. It had been a long day; a day any writer dreams of . . . and the culmination of three long years of work. This novel had transformed his life; he had changed careers and lost his wife in the process.

Georges looked at his watch. He had almost an hour to wait before he had agreed to meet Claudette, and he decided to go to the bistro next door for an espresso. A mob greeted him as soon as he entered the noisy, smoke-filled establishment. He could not escape. He had to sign more autographs. He looked at the dozen outstretched hands, still amazed by his sudden fame. The book was a big hit and production of a movie had begun. His novel, From Sarah to Esther, had surpassed all expectations. Royalties poured in and invitations to attend one gala after another by Paris’s high society reached his mailbox every day. Suzanne obviously wished to impress her superiors with an interview for her newspaper. Perhaps he would change his mind, but at this moment, he wanted to tell her he didn’t have the time.

As he sipped his espresso, his thoughts went back to two years ago, when he had realized their marriage had ended. Suzanne had been furious when he told her he intended to give up his prestigious and lucrative career as president of the university to become a writer. Her words still filled his ears, and he remembered the disdain on her face as she told him that being married to an unknown writer would be too humiliating.

“Who could possibly be interested in your trivial novel?” she had asked.

He should feel vindicated and triumphant today. I showed her, didn’t I? But he just felt sad and empty. He despised failure, and their marriage had been a failure.

The door opened and Claudette came in, a broad smile on her face. She kissed his cheek.

“The bookstore owner told me I’d find you here. How did it go, Georges? Were you mobbed?”

She slid on the seat next to him and took his hand in hers. Her blue eyes sparkled and her blond curls danced as she told him about her day.

“I took the children to the zoo. We had a wonderful time. The baby especially loved the monkeys. He didn’t want to leave.”

Georges smiled. Claudette lit up with happiness and her excitement transferred to him; he felt better all of a sudden.

Georges caressed her cheek. “I, too, had a great day; sold every copy of my book. What do you say we celebrate tonight? Can you get a babysitter?”

“That shouldn’t be a problem. I need to go home and change clothes first. I should go now, since it is a long metro ride. At what time will you come for me?”

“Is seven all right with you? Any special place you’d like to go?” But Georges knew she’d let him choose the restaurant.

“Surprise me, Georges, but nothing too fancy, please. I’ll be ready at seven.”

Georges walked her to the metro station across the street and returned to finish his espresso. To his surprise his old classmate, Michel Duval, had taken a seat at his table.

“I’ve been here a few minutes but didn’t want to intrude on your romantic interlude. Quite a dish, this blonde.” Michel had a twinkle in his eyes as he got up to shake hands with Georges. “How have you been, mon ami?”

“Can’t complain. It’s great to see you. How did you know I would be here?”

“It isn’t difficult to find you these days. Your name is all over the newspapers. I hoped to catch you at the book-signing, but they told me all the books had sold and you had gone for espresso next door. Now, let’s get back to the blonde. Is it serious?”

Georges would normally object to such an intrusion of his privacy, but his close friendship with Michel Duval dated back to their college days and had lasted through the years. There had never been any secrets between them. “I enjoy Claudette’s company. She makes no demands on me, and we have a good time together.”

“How did you meet her, Georges? She doesn’t seem to be your type, I mean—”

“I know what you mean; she’s not at all like Suzanne. Right?” Georges motioned to the waiter to bring them both another espresso.

“Claudette married Jean Breton, a good friend of mine. Jean worked as a curator at the Louvre, and the Nazis executed him before the end of the war. I wanted to be there for her. We began as only friends as she tried to rebuild her life. We’ve gotten closer over the past months, but her three children consume a lot of her time and I’ve been busy promoting my novel.”

Georges looked away and decided not to tell his friend that guilt also had a large part in his relationship with Claudette.

Michel smiled. “So . . . you don’t answer my question. Is it serious?”

Georges tapped his hand on the table and stared at his friend. “Don’t try to analyze it, all right? We have a good time together, that’s all. I’ve a very active social life these days, and Claudette isn’t the social type. She has no interest in accompanying me to the many fancy affairs I’m invited to. We don’t have the same interests, but she’s a lot of fun.”

“Okay, Okay . . . I get it. It has to do with Suzanne, doesn’t it?”

Georges sat his cup down, bit his lower lip and stared at his friend. “Suzanne and I no longer enjoyed each other long before our marriage ended in divorce. Claudette and I helped each other during difficult times . . . end of story. What about you, Michel? Any spicy relationship to tell me about? What have you been up to these days? I haven’t seen you in a while.”

“Oh, this and that. My life isn’t half as exciting as yours I’m afraid. No spicy relationship at the moment, I hate to admit. And no money to go on the hunt for one either. I’m in search of a job. Not much demand for a cameraman these days. I hear some talk about your book being made into a film. Perhaps you could introduce me to the producer?”

Georges hesitated. “I’ve little involvement with the film, mon ami, but I’ll talk to the producer tomorrow. Check back with me in a couple of days.”

“Do you still live on Boulevard Sebastopol?” Michel asked.

“Yes, I do, but you wouldn’t recognize the place. The Gestapo stripped it bare after Suzanne and I had to leave in a hurry. It’s still almost empty, but it is home. Come by any day after three o’clock. I take archaeology classes every afternoon and never get home before then.”

Michel arched his bushy eyebrows. “Archaeology? You went from university president to author and now archaeologist? Wow! It looks like your trip to the Middle East changed your life, my friend.”

“Indeed it has. No, I don’t want to become an archaeologist; I only want to acquire enough knowledge to fully appreciate all the wonders the Middle East offers. It’s another world over there, Michel, you can’t imagine. I intend to return to Cairo as soon as possible.” He looked at his watch. “I must go. I invited Claudette to join me for dinner. Let’s get together soon.”

Michel got up, and they shook hands. “If you go digging up Egypt, you’ll need a cameraman. So, remember me, old friend.” As he exited the bistro, Michel had to bend down so his lanky frame would clear the door.

Georges smiled. His old classmate hadn’t changed much: still lean, same long, blond hair, same big, brown eyes. Michel didn’t look a day older than he did when the two of them shared homework, details of their love life, and lots of laughs at the Sorbonne over twenty-five years ago.

Georges motioned to the waiter for his check, and decided to walk back to his apartment. What a beautiful summer evening, he thought. As it sunk toward the horizon, the sun cast amber reflections on the roofs and bridges of the capital. The Seine glistened, and tourists embarked on the Bateaux-Mouches for the popular trips around the Ile-de-la-Cité. Georges soon passed the Louvre, also bustling with visitors, and reached his turn on Boulevard Sébastopol. The Boulevard, too, sizzled with life and people filled the café’s terraces. Less than two years after the end of the war, the city had returned to its former charm and glory. As the Parisians tried to make up for the five, long, miserable years of war and German occupation, enthusiastic fun ruled. Yes, Paris was back.

Once more Georges felt gratitude that the city did not have to endure damage by bombs and tanks when the Germans had claimed it as their own. Reconstruction had also slowly taken place throughout France. Another few months and most of the destruction would be forgotten and the French would return to their normal happy selves— some of them anyway. It would take much longer for the hundred thousand widows and orphans left behind.

He entered the sparsely furnished apartment, sat down on the bed, and scanned the newspaper. He read that the blockbuster American movie Gone with the Wind played in the theater down the street. Perhaps Claudette would like to see it? She’d told him that many of her friends thought he resembled its main star, Clark Gable.

As a matter of fact, the producer of the upcoming film based on his novel had pushed Georges to agree to star in the movie. “It would be a sure hit with a Clark Gable look-a-like in the main role,” he had said; but Georges had no inclination to become an actor and had refused. Besides his hectic schedule marketing his book, his classes in archaeology at l’Ecole du Louvre took up a lot of his time.

Archaeology. For a brief moment the memory of climbing Mount Nebo near the Red Sea with Alaja, his guide, at his side flooded his thoughts. He quickly pushed it back to the recesses of his mind. Too painful . . . and he didn’t want to ruin what had been a near perfect day . . . if you overlooked his brief encounter with Suzanne that afternoon.

He changed clothes and then left the apartment. He hailed a taxi and headed in the direction of Boulogne to meet Claudette.

She met him at the door, dressed simply in a white blouse and straight black skirt. Her skin glowed and a blue ribbon held her curls in a ponytail. Petite and slender, Claudette didn’t look at all like a mother of three. Suzanne would have been exquisitely dressed to accompany him to a restaurant and many heads would have turned as she passed by. His ex-wife always looked beautiful and elegant, but he would take the genuine warmth of Claudette’s company any day of the week.

“Do I look all right?” Claudette asked. “I suppose I’ll have to get a new wardrobe if you continue to ask me to go out with you, Georges.” She laughed, but he noticed the anxiety in her eyes. Of course . . . that has to be it, he realized. She had refused his frequent invitations because she didn’t have suitable clothes to wear, especially to the upscale functions he attended so often these days. She and her three children barely got by on a small pension from the Louvre after Jean’s death.

With his arms around her shoulders, he smiled. “You look beautiful, Claudette, you always do. Let’s go, I’m starving.”

As the cab traveled through the busy streets of the capital, he realized how insensitive he’d been. Should he offer to take her shopping? He knew that she’d never accept. When he first returned from Damascus, he had given her a large settlement, he pretended it came from the museum—the guilt, again—and it enabled her to survive the last few months of the war. He knew she also earned some money doing alterations for neighbors, but it probably wasn’t enough to meet the demands of three young children and the upkeep of a home.

“Look, Georges,” she pointed to a marquee, “that American film is playing. That’s the one I mentioned to you. A strange name: Autant en Emporte le Vent. Do you know what the film is about?”

“It means the end of an era. It’s about the civil war that pitted the Northerners against the Southerners in America in the early 1860s. It meant the end of slavery and, with it, the end of the rich plantations. A civilization gone in an instant in the winds of that war. The American title is Gone with the Wind. Would you like to see the film sometime this week, Claudette?”

“I’d love to. I’m eager to see if that actor really looks like you. All my friends swoon over this Mr. Gable. He is incredibly handsome, they claim . . . and I hear the film is magnificent,” she hastened to add.

The taxi pulled into the parking lot of a small restaurant: A great choice, intimate, and a favorite of theirs—a place where Georges could enjoy Claudette’s company without the constant interruption of patrons who asked for his autograph. Red roses, candles, and freshly-pressed white tablecloths adorned the tables, and the mirrors around the room sparkled. The music of Jean Sebastian Bach filled the room. Georges ordered a bottle of Dom Perignon, and they shared a lobster. It came on a bed of spinach surrounded by tiny cherry tomatoes and slices of lemon. Georges couldn’t hide his smile as Claudette struggled to pull the meat from the slippery crustacean shell.

She laughed nervously. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it. I love the taste. I have never had lobster,” she confessed. “Do I embarrass you, Georges?”

“Of course not; I should’ve asked the waiter to split it open for you. Here, rub the lemon slices on your hands, and it will remove the fishy smell.”

Georges also rubbed his hands with a lemon slice, and as soon as the citrus scent reached his nostrils, he found himself immersed in a wave of memories. He closed his eyes and remembered holding Alaja close, his face buried in her neck, enveloped by the fresh lemon fragrance of her thick hair. Claudette’s hand on his jolted him back to the present.

“What’s wrong Georges, are you ill? You seemed distraught and a million miles away all of a sudden.”

“Miles away . . . I’m sorry, chérie. The lemon’s fragrance took me back to the Middle East and —”

“Georges, someday you’re going to have to tell me about your trip to Egypt and the Holy Land. Why the big secret? You always seem to dodge the subject. Jean never did tell me anything about his years in Cairo either. What did he do there? I only know he worked there for a few years before we married and—”

“Jean probably didn’t think you’d be interested in stories of digging up old artifacts. He seemed perfectly happy in his job at the Louvre and his life as a family man here in Paris.”

Claudette searched his face. “I know he had asked you to do something for him while you visited Cairo. What did he ask you to do?”

“Oh, he just wanted me to take some photos inside a mine near Mount Sinai, that’s all. Here’s our entrée. Would you like some Dijon with your steak, chérie?”

“Here you go again and change the subject. What is so secret about these photos? Did you take them? Can I see them someday?”

Georges pretended to unfold his napkin and motioned for the waiter to bring them some wine.

“Georges—”

“No, I didn’t bring back any photos; I had an accident in the mine and had to return to Cairo. I’ll go back there someday and if I’m able to photograph the mural, I promise you’ll be the first to see it. It’s Jean’s discovery so, of course, it will belong to you and your children.”

“What mural? What discovery? Jean never said a word to me about it. Does it have something to do with this?” She opened her blouse to reveal a small heart-shaped piece of turquoise that hung from a thin leather strap. “You gave it to me when you returned from Egypt, remember?”

Georges stammered. “You really shouldn’t wear this, Claudette. It’s too precious to lose. It’ll be worth a lot of money someday.”

She closed the buttons of her blouse and hid the locket. “You told me that the ‘EL’ engraved on the turquoise represents the name of the Israelites’ God at the time of the Exodus. Did Jean discover proof that some Israelites, enslaved, worked in these turquoise mines?”

“Yes, he did. . . . Pass the bread tray, please. Would you like some, Claudette?”

Non, merci. Look, I’m not an expert in history, but the fact that Hebrews ended up enslaved in Egypt is common knowledge, and—”

Georges frowned. “Let’s eat, please. I don’t want to rehash my Cairo experience, not right now.” He looked up at her, aware his tone had been harsh. “I’m sorry. I had an unpleasant visit this afternoon, and it put me in a bad mood. I shouldn’t take it out on you.”

“A visit? From whom? Or is that a secret too?”

“My ex-wife came to the book-signing. She only wanted an interview for her newspaper.”

Claudette looked at him, sympathy written all over her face. “You still care about her, don’t you?”

Georges didn’t hesitate for a second. “I don’t care about her at all. As a matter of fact I’m just now to the point where I don’t hate her quite as much.”

“Hate is a form of love, and I think—”

“You think too much, Claudette. Let’s eat now, please.”

The rest of the evening turned out pleasant enough, but when the taxi dropped her off at her home, Claudette spun around.

“I’m sorry I asked so many questions about past history, Georges. It won’t happen again.” She walked into her home and did not look back as she closed the door softly behind her.

As the taxi drove through the streets of Paris, Georges hated himself for having allowed old memories to dampen their evening. If you knew what Suzanne did to me, and to you, you would hate her too.

Once in bed, he tossed and turned most of the night and tried to push away all those memories—those wonderful as well as those painful. To no avail; as daylight dawned on Paris, he left his apartment and went for a walk.

3 Responses to In Pursuit of Abraham the Sequel – First Chapter

  1. C-Shaw

    Ms. Fuqua, I heard of your novel from my friend Angeline Payne, who met you at a party in Chattanooga. She and I enjoyed very much reading “In Pursuit of Abraham” together and discussing it. I was thrilled to find your website and to read the first chapter of the sequel. (I told Angie at the time that there just HAD to be a sequel!) The first chapter is most entertaining. In response to your inquiry to readers, I despise Suzanne and hope Georges does not end up with her. Claudette seems nice enough, if a bit staid compared to the other female love interests. I found Georges to be fairly likeable, though a flawed man, and I felt that he acted very ungentlemanly towards the Middle Eastern girl guide (sorry, her name escapes me right now). The action and especially your description of the countries is so interesting. I enjoy your writing and look forward to reading the entire sequel soon. Keep up the good work!

    • Francine Fuqua

      Thank you so very much for your kind words. As I read your comments, I will strive to establish Georges’ character better in the sequel. As you know it is very much based on my actual grandfather’s story, and I described Georges just as my grandfather would have been. He appeared cold and aloof at times, but that was due to his background (well to do family) and over-the board education. I will publish the next chapter of the sequel soon, and I think you will see where it is going. As a teaser, Georges returns to the Middle east in search of some Dead Sea scrolls, and looks for Alaja. Don’t you wonder how her family accepted her having had an affair with her married, middle age, Christian man? Stay tuned for more adventures in the desert.

    • Francine Fuqua

      Hello, Mr. Shaw. I think I sent you a reply meant for someone else, I apologize. I am glad you liked the sequel to my book, and don’t worry Georges is not going to return to his wife, Suzanne, but will go back to the Middle East in search of Alaja, and many more thrilling adventures in the desert. Will soon publish the second chapter, so stay tuned and thank you so very much. (in real life, my grandfather actually did return to his wife, my grandmother, and lived out the rest of his days, unhappily, with grandmother. Au revoir

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