Quixotic Crossings

Quixotic Crossings by Deidre Dalton is Book #2 in the Collective Obsessions Saga.


Fate continues to entangle the Larkin and Sullivan families amidst madness, murder and obsessive love. Colm and Molly's grandson Jean-Claude Sullivan finds his life driven by greed and perversely tainted pleasures. Beloved family chef Claude Mondoux watches helplessly as Colm slowly loses his mind in ghostly visions of Molly, while Colleen Larkin seeks love in the arms of another man with deadly consequences...

From Chapter Sixteen

August-September 1948

Paris, France


TIME HAD BEEN SOMEWHAT unforgiving to Jean-Claude Sullivan and Mason Berger. Their first years in France had been comfortable ones, filled with prosperity, an endless round of parties to enhance their social visibility, and frequent sensual interludes.


Jean-Claude wrote an advice column for the daily evening newspaper Le Monde, while Mason published a blue novelette titled Amour Interdit ("Forbidden Love") in 1943. The book was a scathingly honest portrayal of two women deeply in love. Mason reversed the gender in his fictional account, but the words, actions and love scenes were purely Jean-Claude and Mason. The novel sold well despite its scandalous content, and could be found in fashionable as well as backstreet book shops. It made Mason the toast of the underbelly for quite some time, a role he relished with great aplomb.


Jean-Claude and Mason rented a sumptuous flat on Passy Street in the Bois de Boulogne Auteuil area of Paris. The newly au courant quarter housed many from the Paris stylish set. Before long, Jean-Claude and Mason were well-known for their eccentric yet lavish parties. They attracted echelons of high society, successful artists, writers and those of their own persuasion. Their widely known yet rarely acknowledged sexual orientation drew in other men like a magnet, although rendezvous were conducted with the utmost discreetness-in-hand under the noses of the established social keepers.


But Jean-Claude and Mason's love of fine wines, rich food and fancy digs soon sent their fortunes awry. Jean-Claude's heavy drinking and experimentation with opium intensified, making him unreliable and lethargic. After failing to meet several deadlines with Le Monde, he lost his job. And despite the popularity of his novelette, Mason could not seem to bring forth any new literary masterpieces.


Eight years after arriving in Paris, Jean-Claude and Mason accepted defeat and moved into a smaller flat in Saint Germaine des Pres, a bohemian neighbourhood that was filled with jazz musicians, struggling artists, hopeful writers, prostitutes and drug addicts. The two men survived on small pension checks, erratic royalties from Mason's publisher and the occasional freelance article written by Jean-Claude.


They stayed close to Rue Guénégaud, sharing their one bedroom apartment that also included a small private terrace, a kitchen, a bathroom and a cramped sitting room. Despite their financial woes, they brought with them the furnishings from their flat on Passy Street. Over time, however, they were forced to pawn various possessions for cash. Still, they maintained an elegant air of genteel austerity.


One Sunday morning in late August 1948, Jean-Claude and Mason enjoyed a breakfast of warm croissants and coffee on their terrace as they read the Le Figaro, their newspaper of choice since Jean-Claude was fired from Le Monde. Birds were perched and chirping on tree branches next to the terrace, and the two men could hear people walking and talking on the street below as they went about their business.


"We should take a walk to the Quai de Conti this afternoon," Mason said vaguely from behind the political section of Le Figaro. "It's a beautiful day, no? Ein vollkommener Tag für ein Picknick."


Jean-Claude bit into his third croissant. "I don't know, Mason darling. I'd rather just sit here on the terrace, watching the people go by."


Mason looked across the table at his beloved. Jean-Claude was pale this morning, the wispy remnants of his once-blond-hair exposing a reddened pate. His eyes were puffy and heavy-lidded, and his hands shook as he took a sip of coffee.


Mason loved Jean-Claude unconditionally. They were both getting older, but years of dissipation had accelerated the aging process. Jean-Claude was only forty-one, yet he looked sixty years old. Mason felt every second of his fifty-two years in his arthritic joints, hip degeneration and failing eyesight.


Suddenly, their white Persian cat strolled out onto the terrace, her tail swishing high in the air. She gave a soft, mewling sound, a signal she wanted to be fed. Mason leaned down to scratch the feline on the head, but she pulled away in disdain.


Jean-Claude laughed. "I see Madame Larkin is in fine form as usual. Give her some cream, Mason. Royalty commands the best."


The cat was so-named because the two men felt their cat was regal, pompous and condescending beyond measure, much as they viewed members of the Larkin family back in Maine. Yet they loved their little feline to bits, treating her like a daughter, and calling her "Le Petit Mademoiselle" when she was naughty.


Mason had just poured cream into a small bowl when they heard a soft rap on the front door.


"Drat," Mason muttered as he set the bowl down on the ground for the anxiously waiting Madame. "I'd rather not entertain any guests today. A nice afternoon stroll would have been nice, but we don't have to talk to people on the street. If they come to our door, we are forced to be polite, to offer erfrischung – refreshment…"


"When do we have company since moving to Rue Guénégaud?" Jean-Claude asked as he rose from the table. "The last time we had proper guests was two years ago last Christmas."


Leaving Mason on the terrace with Madame, Jean-Claude walked slowly through the crowded small apartment to the front door.


When he beheld the presence of his son, Jean-Claude was speechless with shock. He never expected to see George again, but his eyes drank in the image anyway. Jean-Claude also felt a wave of pleasure wash over him, a somewhat euphoric sense of happiness that made him giddy.


George was fresh-faced and tall, his blue eyes sparkling. His blond hair was close-cropped, with razor-straight short fringes protruding along the top of his forehead. Jean-Claude was reminded of himself, as well as Colm and Mick Sullivan all rolled into one.


"George?" Jean-Claude finally asked, leaning weakly against the door frame. "Is it really you?"


"Papa, it's me," George grinned, taking his father into a warm embrace. Jean-Claude felt his son's physical strength, his stocky frame, and was assailed with a sense of pride.


"Come in," Jean-Claude gasped out when George released him. "Please come in."


George picked up a small suitcase from the hallway floor, a battered yellow piece of luggage Jean-Claude instantly recognized. It was the same traveling bag Jennifer used on their honeymoon twenty-one years ago.


Jean-Claude shut the door after his son entered. "How on earth did you manage a trip to Paris?" he wanted to know. "Certainly your mother didn't approve. Or did you even tell her? Has Larkin City changed? Are you working, going to school…?"


George laughed, holding up his hand. "One question at a time, Papa. My return flight to the States isn't until the second week in September, so we have plenty of time to catch up."


Jean-Claude brightened. "How wonderful! Mason and I can show you the sights of Paris, and we can become reacquainted again." He touched George on the arm, almost hesitating before he spoke. "Come to the terrace and meet my dear friend Mason, and then we'll have a bit of breakfast after your long journey."


*  *  *


IT DIDN'T TAKE GEORGE long to fully understand the true nature of his father's relationship with Mason Berger. He was slightly repulsed but not overly shocked, having suspected Jean-Claude's inclinations for a long time just by the tone of his letters and the affectionate mentions of Mason. The more time he spent with the two men the more he realized how instinctive their relationship was.


Jean-Claude and Mason seemed to flow together. They finished each other's sentences, or they sniped at each other playfully, just like an old married couple. In truth, the two men were married in a spiritual sense, their unconditional love evident in every touch and vocal gesture.


George brushed his initial repulsion aside, and soon found himself enjoying their company. He was not inclined toward their sexual preference - had never thought about it, actually - but he did appreciate their frequent bitchy humour and embellished repartee.


Jennifer Sullivan would be aghast if she knew her son had ditched the French Club tour to be with his father for the duration of the trip, and that Mrs. Tremblay agreed to the subterfuge because she knew the history of Jean-Claude and Jennifer, having attended high school with the former many years ago. Marie Tremblay had never liked Jennifer O'Connor during their teenaged years, and did not like her as Jennifer Sullivan, either, although she took great pains to hide that fact for George's sake. She was glad to be a part of George's long-awaited reunion with his father, however brief it might be.


George had no illusions about his mother, or bitterness that she tried to protect him from knowledge of his father. Now that he grasped Jean-Claude's lifestyle, it was understandable that she wanted to shield him from it. Jennifer had problems of her own to be sure - she had never remarried, had no interest in dating men, and preferred her nightly tipple - but she was a good woman at heart, and he could not have asked for a better mother.


After George polished off the croissants and coffee, Mason cleared the table and left the terrace, giving father and son time alone. Madame curled up in Jean-Claude's lap, while George lit a cigarette.


"How is your mother doing?" Jean-Claude asked. "Even though we are no longer together, I still care about what happens to Jennifer. I hope you believe that."


"Mother is well," George replied, blowing a smoke ring into the air. "You'd never know she just passed her thirty-seventh birthday. She's as spry as a young girl, although as plump as a hen. Mother spends a lot of time with her church group, and every spring she plants a huge vegetable garden. She's a great collector of all things feline as well - cat figurines, garden statues, tissue boxes, lamps - oh, you just name it."


Jean-Claude nodded. "And you? Do you have a girlfriend?"


George's eyes lit up. He crushed out his cigarette in a small glass ashtray on the table. "Her name is Susan O'Reilly. We've known each other since second grade. Over the summer we fell in love and well…" he grinned, glancing at his father. "We have one more year of high school left, but I think I'm going to ask her to marry me anyway. I thought about it on the flight over here, all the way. Susan and I are like soul mates. We know each other so well, and I can't imagine being with anyone else."


"That sounds wonderful," Jean-Claude said with all the sincerity he could muster, although he was wary that his son was placing all his eggs in one basket at such a tender age. "Tell me about her."


"Susan's father owns a chain of restaurants known as The Sand Trap, and he is rather affluent. They live in Harbour Hill. They seem to like me. Mother likes Suz, too, and thinks she is a smashing girl." George lit another cigarette, leaning back in the chair. "Suz and I want the same things, you know. We are on the same wavelength."


Jean-Claude stroked the top of Madame's head, listening to the cat purr contentedly. He glanced at his son, who was looking heavenward as he smoked his cigarette. "Have you decided to go to college? Or are you just going to stay in Larkin City after high school and find work?"


George shrugged. "I haven't decided yet. I'm not really good at anything in particular. I mean, I know how to do a lot of different things, but I can't seem to focus on just one. I can fix a car, unstop a plugged sink drain, or I can build tables and chairs from piles of lumber, but all of that won't get me far, will it? I need to figure out how to make a living, but nothing has come to me yet."


"It sounds like you are underrating yourself," Jean-Claude observed. "If you know how to do many things, then you are valuable in many ways. You could offer yourself as a handyman in Larkin if you want to stay there and get married, or you could go to college and perhaps a true vocation will come to you there. You are young, George, and the possibilities are endless. But grab opportunities as you can, take them and run, because time marches swiftly and grasps away your choices."


George looked at his father thoughtfully, tapping the ash of his cigarette into the ashtray. "I do want to stay in Larkin," he admitted. "I love the place, but maybe I could talk Susan into going with me to school in Portland, or Boston even. We could get married and I can go to college anyway, and then when I'm done we can move back to Larkin and get our life going."


Jena-Claude smiled. "It sounds like a plan. A very good plan. Whatever makes you happy, George. Grab life with gusto, and take happiness where you can find it."


Mason returned to the terrace, having changed into khaki slacks and a white cotton shirt. He addressed his beloved: "Since your son is here, will you finally agree to leave this apartment and show him some of the sights?"


Jean-Claude laughed, causing Madame to hiss and jump from his lap. She flicked her tail and waltzed back into the flat. "You win, Mason, Let's go."


George grinned. "I'm game. Where to?"


*  *  *


GEORGE FELL IN LOVE with Paris during his two-week stay. True to their word, Jean-Claude and Mason showed him the sights. He saw the Eiffel Tower, viewed popular Picasso and Dalí exhibits at the Musée de l'Orangerie, took strolls along the River Seine and underneath the Arc de Triomphe, walked about the Place de la Concorde, visited Notre Dame, took in an opera at Opéra National de Paris Garnier, and listened to Mason talk about the liberation of France from the Germans in 1944.


"I am German, yes," Mason told George one evening as the three men sat on the terrace at Rue Guénégaud, drinking red wine and smoking cigarettes. "But I deplore Hitler, and hate being associated with the German race because of him. Those first few years in Paris, I tried to hide my accent but to no avail. Luckily, our friends didn't seem to mind my origins, and took me at face value, knowing I would never support the actions of a complete verrückt—uhm lunatic."  He shook his head, taking another sip of wine. "For God's sake, some of our best friends are Jüdisch—Jewish, no? How could I support the inhumane action, the atrocities practiced by Herr Hitler?"


George soaked it all in, enjoying the conversations, the trips around Paris, but most of all getting to know his father again. Jean-Claude was a complex man, his son realized. Intelligent, articulate and with a sense of humour, the elder Sullivan also possessed traits that were typically abhorred by others but seemed to blend in effortlessly with his other quirks: he was priggish, spoiled and expectant that Mason would take care of unpleasant details, and make reality a better place to be. Mason accepted Jean-Claude as he was, warts and all, and even seemed gladly willing to be the one who nurtured and comforted his partner without expectation of the same in return.


To this end, George realized Jean-Claude did the best he could with that he had, with what he was capable of offering as a father. George felt no resentment at the lack of a father figure during the course of his adolescence. In fact, he was proud of the uniqueness of his father and his lifestyle, that he had the courage to do as he pleased and damn the consequences. Jean-Claude Sullivan lived life as he saw fit, with no apologies.


Near the close of his visit to Paris, George's thoughts returned to his life in Larkin City. Granted it would seem dull and boring when compared to his time in France, but he was looking forward to getting back to Susan, of asking her to marry him. They would finish out their last year of high school together, get married, and then he would apply to colleges in Portland and Boston. Surely by then he would know what he wanted to do with his life, if only vaguely, and college would fill in the rest of the blanks.


George spent the night before his departure from Paris with Jean-Claude and Mason on the terrace of their flat. The three men dined on chicken and dumplings, and drank substantial amounts of wine. It was during the meal that Jean-Claude broached the subject of money with his son.


"I heard through the grapevine that my father Mick, your grandfather, died in 1945," he said as he poured out more wine into the three glasses. "I am so very sorry to hear that, George. Were you and Mick close?"


George sipped the fresh wine. "Yes, we were. I spent a lot of time with Mick and Granny Layla. I used to go out on the harbour with Mick in the summer when he worked for the Larkin Harbour Tour Company, which is still going strong by the way. It was awful the way Mick died, you know, he had a sudden heart attack as he was sailing the Lady Banshee with a group of tourists from New York City. He was the picture of health before that, so his death was quite a shock."


"I'm so sorry," Jean-Claude repeated, keeping the proper amount of respect in his voice.


Mason was alert at once. He glanced at his lover and saw his mind working. Jean-Claude was not so much concerned with the death of his father or the welfare of his widowed mother as he was with the remaining fortune left behind by Mick Sullivan. He was being circumspect, but he was getting to the point in his own way.


"Didn't Granny Layla write to you, tell you that Mick died?" George wanted to know.


Jean-Claude shook his head. "No. After I left Larkin City, I never heard from your grandparents. I have a few friends left there, and I think the news came to me in a Christmas card a few years ago. I can't recall." He sipped his wine, his eyes on George's face. "How is your grandmother these days? I imagine Mick left her well off with the Larkin inheritance willed to him years ago."


George popped a dumpling into his mouth, shrugging. "Oh yes, she doesn't have to worry about money, that's for sure. He left me a little bundle, too, although I haven't touched it apart from taking some out to make the trip to Paris." He took another sip of wine. "Granny is doing okay, though. She takes regular excursions to Portland to shop, usually on weekends, and she had her whole house redecorated a few years ago."


"Don't forget, you have another inheritance coming to you," Jean-Claude advised his son in a serious tone, as if his welfare was of the utmost importance to him. "In two more years you'll turn eighteen, and it will be time to collect your comeuppance from Grandfather Colm."


"It seems so far away I never think about it," George admitted. "Although fifty thousand dollars would come in handy for Suz and me, you know, for starting our life together. We can buy our own house with that kind of money, and then some. That way I wouldn't have to touch what Mick left me for quite some time." He emphasized his last sentence, looking out the corner of his eyes to gauge his father's reaction.


Jean-Claude fingered the stem of his wine glass, his eyes narrowing. Mason quickly gulped down the rest of his wine, setting his glass on the table. He knew his lover was plotting something; there was no doubt about it. And it had something to do with getting money out of his son. Mason did not demur, desperate for funds in his own way. The fact that George was here to reconnect with his father, and that Jean-Claude seemed touched by the gesture, was becoming lost in the perpetual need to survive.


"My original inheritance is long gone, of course," Jean-Claude said aloud, while Mason drew in his breath. "One doesn't live in Paris without paying the price."


George pushed his plate aside and lit a cigarette, regarding his father across the table. He had come to realize how financially destitute Jean-Claude and Mason really were in the two weeks he had stayed in their home, and was amused by their attempts to hide the fact. Jean-Claude had not made any moves to ask for a loan, but somehow George knew it was coming now. The subject had not been appropriate until they discussed Mick Sullivan's death.


"I suppose I'm lucky," George said slowly, blowing a smoke ring in the air. "Not only do I have the fifty thousand coming to me from the trust left by great-grandfather Colm, but I have clear access to the three hundred thousand left to me by Grandfather Mick."


Jean-Claude's jaw nearly dropped, while Mason coughed into his wine glass. George enjoyed the reaction, but continued smoking his cigarette in leisure fashion.


Jean-Claude moistened his lips, offering his son a wan smile. "Good Lord, George. That's quite a bit of money. Are you sure it's in a safe place? You know how banks are these days. You need to keep an eye on it so you don't lose it."


"It's still where Mick left it," George said. "In the bank. The interest is piling up quite nicely, thank you."


Mason watched the slight game between father and son, somewhat amused that George played the dolt while Jean-Claude tried his best to cajole financial facts and figures out of him with what he thought was clever finesse.


George stubbed out his cigarette in the ashtray. "I can't understand why Mick didn't leave you something," he said, drumming his fingers on the table with exaggerated slowness. "You were his only son, after all. He left Granny Layla the bulk of the estate, of course, but I suppose that will come to me one day, too."


"My father did not approve of my lifestyle," Jean-Claude said bluntly, the time for games over in his mind. "I was not worthy because I felt love for another man rather than a woman, as is natural to most people. I was a loyal and giving son until Mick and Layla turned their backs on me, when they found out about my lifestyle. Parents should love their children unconditionally, don't you think? It shouldn't have mattered what I did, they should have loved me through thick and thin. It's not as if I went out and killed someone or robbed a bank, for God's sake."


To Mason's surprise, George agreed. "Yes, Papa, that's the way it should be. It was a terrible oversight on the part of Mick and Layla, but I cannot fault them too much because they always treated me with kindness. I can see your point, though, and it's unfair that you should be left out in the cold by your parents' misguided ill will."


Jean-Claude held his breath.


George's happiness at being able to see his father again, combined with the knowledge of Jean-Claude's tendency to excess, gave him a surge of generosity. It was unusual for a son to provide for his father in normal instances, but George had long ago realized his family was not normal, nor were the events of their lives.


Knowing he may never see his father again after leaving Paris, George decided to be more than magnanimous.


"I can send you some money," he said, happy to see his father's eyes light up with glee, and a hint of relief. "I can spare it, since I received what would have probably been yours under normal circumstances. Would you mind terribly accepting money from your son, or would you rather forget about it?"


Jean-Claude's eyes widened with a brief flash of panic, and then he reached across the table to pat his son affectionately on the hands. "I trust your judgment, George. Whatever you think is best. It's your money after all, although you were probably right in assuming it would have been mine if my life had gone differently."


George nodded, rising from the table. "Thank you, father, for trusting me. As soon as I get back to Larkin City, I'll send you a bank draft for thirty thousand dollars. Would that help you and Mason for a little while?"


Mason stifled an exclamation of surprise by covering his mouth, while Jean-Claude kept his cool exterior. "You are more than generous, my son," he said smoothly. "We are eternally grateful for your assistance during this difficult time. Hopefully I can pay you back in due course."


George waved his hand, dismissing his father's words. "No need, Papa. We are family, you and I. Whatever I give you is a gift, not to be repaid like an impersonal bank loan. Perhaps in another year or so I can send more money, if you and Mason require it."


"I would be more than grateful," Jean-Claude said, his voice choking with emotion. "Thank you, George. Thank you so much. You have lifted a great burden from both of us, and we will forever be in your moral debt."


"Ja, danke, George," Mason sputtered, tears of relief dampening his cheekbones. "What a wonderful son you are."


George smiled. "Please, consider it a gift from a grateful son. I have truly enjoyed our time together. It has been priceless, and will warm my memories for many years to come. Please use the money to keep yourselves warm in the winter months, or to treat yourselves to an opera or two at the Garnier, or to get Madame a delicacy from the fish market."


Mason dabbed at his eyes with his table napkin, while Jean-Claude gazed at his son with wonder. "You will never know how you saved us, my son," he said. "You saved us, plain and simple."


        "And my thoughts will always be with you, Papa," George said to himself silently, gladdened by the genuine love he saw in his father's eyes.



QUIXOTIC CROSSINGS ©2011-16 Deidre Dalton. All rights reserved.

"Quixotic Crossings" may not be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission from the author. "Quixotic Crossings" is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.