Le provocateur du mal

 Jayne shuffled from foot to foot impatiently while her mother clanged the bronze ship’s bell at the entrance to the garden.

  “Put your phone away,” Mrs. Marble-Lynn said, dropping her hand from the rope dangling from the bell’s clapper. “I’ve searched for this sculpture a long time. You don’t need to be yakking away on that thing while we’re doing this.”

  “I’m looking it up online,” the teenager protested. She pushed back her mass of blonde hair, rolled her clear blue eyes, and sighed. “You know I need to provide references if I am going to present this at school. I can’t just say ‘Mom told me’.”

“You don’t need to look it up online,” her mother retorted. She held up an old leather bond journal with ragged pages. “If you want to do ground-breaking research, you must leave behind what other people have done and see things for yourself. This diary I discovered while curating the stacks clearly says that the author was certain The Angel is here.”

“You should have gotten your hair done today,” Jayne said, ignoring her mother’s admonishment. “I can see the gray roots.”

“It was that or help you,” Mrs. Marble-Lynn replied. She yanked her reading glasses from the top of her head and balanced them on her nose. Holding the journal open in one hand, she re-read the handwritten notations.

When the large, wooden door slid open, Jayne turned toward it. Her mother took advantage of the distraction to snatch the phone from Jayne’s hand and deposit it securely into her designer shoulder bag.

“Mom!” Jayne cried, indignantly.

The gatekeeper who appeared in the entrance had thin, straggly hair and round shoulders stooped to the point where he couldn’t stand upright. His nose was bulbous and red, his eyes lost in a multitude of fleshy folds.
“He looks like he’s even older than the park,” Jayne complained to her mother loudly.

Mrs. Marble-Lynn turned a stern, no-nonsense glare on her daughter. When the girl dropped her eyes in defeat, her mother offered the book to the old man, saying, “Good afternoon. We’re interested in looking at your sculptures. This one in particular.”

He took the journal from her hands, shifted it back and forth in front of him as if to find a spot where it would be in focus and then read the page marked with a sticky note.

“Ah, yes. Yes. Our best. You have very discerning taste,” he said, his smile exposing worn, yellow teeth. He peeled the sticky note off the page and crumpled it between his wrinkled fingers.

“Wait. What? You mean it’s really here,” Jayne stammered in disbelief. “Of all places.”

The gatekeeper closed the book and stepped to one side. Smiling kindly at the teenager, he gestured with one hand. “Please come in.”
“Yes, of course,” Mrs. Marble-Lynn said as they crossed the gate’s threshold.

Once inside, both the girl and her mother gazed around in wonder. A quarter-mile wide and three-quarters of a mile long, the garden had been in the historic district longer than anyone alive could remember. Tall stone walls pushed back against skyscrapers, steered traffic away from the garden, and hid it from the eyes of the world. Every inch seemed to be devoted to walkways meandering around a multitude of lifelike sculptures. Jayne danced over to the closest ones and inspected them.

“Look how detailed they are,” she exclaimed, incredulous. “This one has the most delicate tear coming from the corner of his eye. And this one is eating a small section of an orange.”

Glancing triumphantly at her daughter, Mrs. Marble-Lynn waited while the gatekeeper closed door then shuffled over to a cabinet where he hung a ring of keys on an empty hook. Turning back to his guests, he swept his hand in another grand, welcoming gesture. “Will you follow me, please?”
“There must be dozens of sculptures here,” Mrs. Marble-Lynn commented as they walked.

“Hundreds,” he agreed. “From several different eras. A new one comes along every few years. The one you are looking for is at the center.”
“The one of the really hot guy?” Jayne asked, her pout now replaced by a wide grin.

The old man smirked. “Some people say so…”

“I can’t believe it, Mom,” Jayne continued. “You were right. Guillaume Geefs’ L’ange du mal, Jozef Geefs’ Le génie du mal –and this one, the lost, third angel, Le provocateur du mal – The Provocateur of Evil. Right in our neighborhood all this time.”

“We’ll have to examine it carefully,” Mrs. Marble-Lynn cautioned with a smile. “There is no record of either Guillaume or Jozef Geefs sculpting a third angel.”

Jayne bounced from foot to foot excitedly.

“Run ahead, if you’d like,” her mother said indulgently, waving her off with her fingers.

Jayne murmured a quick “thanks” then sprinted off in the direction the gatekeeper indicated. The old man formally held out his arm to Mrs. Marble-Lynn who started to laugh, then composed herself and rested her hand on the inside of his elbow.

“I’m looking forward to seeing it,” Mrs. Marble-Lynn replied. It has taken so long to track it down…so long to…so….” Her voice made a grating sound, like cement in a mixer, and then stopped. Her skin stiffened.

“Why is the dais empty?” Jayne called from the middle of the sculpture garden.

The young gatekeeper removed his arm from Mrs. Marble-Lynn’s stone hand. He extended his arms, bounced on his toes a few times then stretched out his wings and shook them. Lifting the journal on one, open palm, he blew gently across the front cover. Within seconds the journal vanished. He stood with his head slightly tilted as if listening intensely then straighten once he was certain it had reappeared in the stacks of the city’s library.

“Mom?” Jayne called again, the concern in her voice obvious. “Mom, where are you two?”

“Be right there, Pet,” he answered in the old gatekeeper’s voice.Le provocateur du mal

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