Sunday, October 23, 2011

Chapter 13

Chapter Thirteen:
Of Truths and Consequences

           The discovery of the little ballerina’s body shocked all who worked and lived in the Palais Garnier. Not so much that she died, though it was tragic indeed, but that she died so far away from the opera house and in such a condition. Rumors ran rampant amongst the petite rats that the Opera Ghost had called forth hell’s demons to aid him in his reign of terror. Buquet’s death, though silently cheered by those who’d been caught by the lecherous old drunk, had only whetted the phantom’s appetite for blood and he was now drawing the young ballerinas away for a night of hedonistic debauchery and human sacrifice. If Madame Giry had been shocked by all the stories surrounding her friend, Erik had been amazed at the girls’ ghoulish imaginations. Both, however, were worried about this new threat to the weakest of the opera house’s residents. 
          He had related the news of the stagehand’s death to Christine and assured her it had been an accident. She seemed completely unaffected by the information, though he thought he detected a certain gleam in her eye that hinted she wasn't unhappy with the news. By this time, they had fallen into a sort of routine in the days since she’d taken refuge in the house on the lake. Their first conflict arose when Christine discovered she slept in the only bed. After a rather heated argument, Erik had cleared space in his office for a small cot he’d appropriated from the ballet dormitories. Since Erik slept but little, he didn't see the point, but if it made his angel happy (and his house quiet once more) he was content to humor her. In the mornings, he would have breakfast prepared for the two of them by the time Christine arose. They shared in washing up as well as any domestic chores that needed to be done; he took care of the music room and his office/bedroom while she cleaned the den and her bedroom. Lunch was a casual affair of sandwiches, fruit, and tea, usually eaten in the den while they talked around the fire. Christine prepared dinner; sometimes it would be a traditional Swedish dish like the first night she cooked for him, at others she would try a recipe she’d gotten from Madame Giry. Both were rather amazed at how…normal their existence was—as long as one ignored the fact that their home was in the fifth cellar, one was a murderer on the run while the other was the infamous Opera Ghost. 
          The first change to their situation accompanied Erik’s Persian friend when he returned a week after his first unforgettable visit; the information he brought would destroy Christine’s short-lived peace. After exchanging the normal pleasantries, they settled by the fire with a pot of tea laced with brandy to stave off the cold and turned their attention to the situation at hand. The first two pieces of information were, while not good news, not necessarily bad either. After the innkeeper identified Gustav Daaé, the gendarmes searched his room and found references to a house in Perros-Guirec. With no one to claim the body, city officials had placed him on a train for that town and the Persian awaited further information concerning his final resting place there. The second piece of news concerned the man known to Christine only as Beauvais. A son of an untitled but wealthy landowner, François Beauvais had, indeed, died of his injuries in Le Havre. The state of the room, as well as several distinctive items turning up in pawn shops, led the gendarmes to conclude he’d interrupted a burglary and closed the case after delivering his remains to his family. 
          Of the other two gentlemen, the Persian had been amazed they were grouped together as they were as different as night and day. The Vicomte de Chagny was the youngest child and second son of a well-respected noble family. Considered by all to be handsome, charming, and personable, young Raoul was doted upon by his elder sisters and his mother, protected by his big brother, and tolerated by his father. After returning from university, he was set to join an expedition to the north with the navy. The men in his family hoped it would toughen up the softer side gained from so much female attention, while he simply yearned for adventure. He sincerely loved the arts and was one of the few patrons who went to the opera for the music and not the ballet corps. 
          If the Vicomte’s life was open and free of secrets, Jean-Louis Gachot’s was a mystery wrapped in layers of subterfuge and obfuscation. The son of a second cousin to Henri Gachot, he was fifth in line to inherit the title, fortune, and lands. A yachting accident during the turbulent autumn months claimed the lives of Henri as well as both of his sons, their wives, and their children. There was a thorough investigation since the Gachot’s didn’t own a yacht, but nothing was found out of the ordinary and their deaths were ruled a horrible accident. There were rumors that Jean-Louis had damning information on the inspectors who led the case, but nothing was ever proven and he stepped into the title without any who could contest it. 
          “This man is dangerous, my friend, and quite willing to do whatever it takes to achieve his goals. He keeps a mistress but she refused to speak to me no matter how many francs I offered. She wasn't loyal; she was terrified. He routinely uses the services of a bordello, requesting their youngest virgins who are often not returned at all.” At Christine’s gasp, Erik fixed the Persian with a glare. “My apologies, Mademoiselle, if I have distressed you.” 
          “And…was he in Le Havre?” She hated how her voice shook but, for the first time, she was gaining a name to the face in her nightmares. “Two years ago, was he there?” 
          “Oui, Mademoiselle. There are several who remember him well, as they lost at cards to the Comte le Lancival during his stay there.” 
          “It’s him…” Christine paled and her hand shook as she replaced her cup on the tray. She sat in silence for a long, awful moment and when her eyes met Erik’s, he was heartbroken at the bleak emptiness there. “When do we go after him?”


          Erik watched his angel with growing concern. The verification that the Comte was the man who’d assaulted her, that he was here in Paris and often visited the Garnier had shaken her to the core. Even the confirmation that Beauvais had died from wounds sustained by her hand failed to upset her as much as this. He wanted so badly to help her heal, but didn't know where to begin. Until she told him all of what had happened that awful night in Le Havre, he was left with little to nothing to go on. The Persian, realizing they needed time to absorb his information, left the folder containing his information in the chair he’d just vacated and slipped quietly out of the house. The silence in the wake of his leaving was deafening as neither knew what to say. 
          “Mon ange,” Erik began but was interrupted when she held up a hand and shook her head. 
          “I know what you want to ask but I can’t. I’m just not ready to tell you.” ‘Or to see the light of disgust in your eyes or watch as you do all you can to avoid touching me,’ she added silently. 
          “No, Christine.” His voice was as soft as eiderdown and she looked up at him in surprise and horror, fearing she’d spoken her thoughts aloud again. “No matter what you have done or what was done to you, I could never view you as anything but my angel.”


          The tears came then, though she tried to hide them. She wept as much for her future as for her past. Her girlish dreams, encouraged and nurtured by her father, had been shattered in mere hours one dark night and, like ripples in a pond, the effects continued to spread. Rage and despair warred for dominance within her and she was helpless against their battering against her soul. When she felt the sofa dip beneath his weight and his strong but gentle arms draw her into his embrace, Christine knew she had to tell him. And then she would leave to hunt down Gachot alone. 
          When she began her tale, Erik stroked her hair tenderly and murmured soothing words in her ear. The longer she spoke, however, the angrier he became and she could feel the rising tension in his body. She had planned to be brief and only tell what she remembered once she’d regained consciousness. But as she spoke, a dam burst inside her and she was sobbing out everything into his once-crisp shirt. She told of how she’d awakened, naked and strapped face-down on his bed, to the horrifying pain he was inflicting upon her. That she’d only realized what he was doing when he noticed she was conscious and began praising her for being a good little whore. He’d told her how aroused he became when she killed his “friend,” to see such passion and hatred; how he’d enjoy the challenge of breaking her; how he kept her until sunrise and used her over and over again until her screams and cries of pain became mere whimpers which eventually ceased altogether. 
          He freed her right as the sun broke the horizon, giving her one final humiliation: he’d tossed several hundred francs on the bed in front of her tear- and sweat-stained face. Christine fled the inn and Le Havre before the sun grew high overhead. She stopped to bathe at every stream, every river, every lake or pond, but she never felt clean. She still didn't  The first ripple of that night came two months after her flight: she was pregnant. Pregnant with her rapist’s child. She became hysterical at the news and had to be sedated at the doctor’s office. Once she’d calmed enough for them to release her, she had committed her second murder. She found an herbalist and, using the money he had left her, she purged her body of his spawn. She remembered little after that, having retreated into her mind to avoid the torment her life had become. 
          She’d worked in several theaters before the Garnier. Her love for music hadn't died, but she couldn't bear to perform without her father’s accompaniment. So she’d worked as a seamstress or a cleaner or whatever menial job was available. These positions seemed to bring unwanted attention from the patrons of the less respectable theaters and so Christine became Chris and worked in the crew. She changed theaters more often after that, so no one would question why Chris never grew up. She finally ended at the Garnier. Her life, while not happy, had at least evened out to some form of contentment until she looked down from the flies and saw him. She was hardly aware of what she did or said; the only thing she knew was that she had to leave, had to escape. Christine had gone to the chapel to retrieve her father’s portrait and say her farewells to the Opera Ghost when she’d been accosted by Buquet. In her struggle to get away, he had been responsible for her bruised cheek as well as the blood beneath her nails as she clawed her way free of him. She didn't remember Erik’s arrival, nor how she came to be in his home, only that she was glad it was he who’d found her. 
          As her voice died and silence descended once more, Christine trembled as she awaited his order for her to gather her things and leave. Murdering your attacker was one thing but she had murdered an innocent child with full knowledge and planning. There wasn't a penance that existed to save her black soul, which was now as tainted as her body. As the silence continued, she eased from his embrace without daring to look at him. If she saw the disgust that she knew he must now feel for her, it would shatter her into tiny pieces from which there would be no recovery.

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