tagSci-Fi & FantasyThe Mystery at Pere Lachaise

The Mystery at Pere Lachaise


Chapter 1

"Noah come we will have to go now" Claude called to Noah who was busy sweeping leaves the grave of Ferdinand Barbedienne on Chemin Mont-Louis. Noah put his broom into the wheelbarrow and followed Claude leaving Rene to take the wheelbarrow and other items back to the yard.

Noah was a 24 years old student, a smidge under 6 foot tall, with a lean but muscular build, a handsome, though often unshaven, face with green eyes, surrounded today with long dark brown shaggy cut bed hair. He had been part of the architectural maintenance team at Pere-Lachaise for just four months. He had joined the team for two reasons. The first to provide some much-needed finances and the second to support his research for his sponsored Archaeology studies at the Sorbonne. It was what his professor termed an internship. He was studying the connections between social architecture and art so Pere was perfect and he was particularly interested in the work of the designer of Pere.

His professor had got him the job and negotiated study breaks; access to records, archives and a reasonable salary for his 20 hours a week job. His connection and his study had been why he had been working with Claude Villeneuve who was due to move to his new job at the Palace of Versailles but had delayed his date for one month so he could see the 'Lady in Black'. Claude had told the story to Noah with great passion and had promised Noah he would take him to see her when she came.

Noah thought the story the imagination of many workers at the cemetery a story to tell tourists and encourage them to visit more frequently. But no Claude had assured him only a few workers knew the story and as he was leaving he wanted to ensure the new lady would have a watcher.

The story was easy enough to remember. A young man named Christian Romero had been interred at the cemetery in 1812. The young man had died of wounds sustained while fighting in the Napoleonic Peninsula War in Portugal at the beginning of the previous year. He had returned to Paris, and his mother, but unfortunately had succumbed to his wounds a few months later.

His mother was said to have been a Danish prostitute and rumours abounded Paris, at the time of his death, that he was the bastard son of Christian VII of Denmark and Norway. The young man had been born on Tuesday 29th February 1780 and died on Saturday 29th February 1812 at the age of 32. That in its self seemed a strange and unique thing to Noah. How many people were born and died on the same date and even more unique to be born and die on the Leap Day.

Claude claimed that the young man's mother was poor, so not a high-class prostitute, that her son had been bought a commission as Captain in Napoleon's army and the tomb an ornate neoclassical designed by Alexandre-Théodore Brongniart the cemetery designer himself.

An honour allowed by Napoleon and rumour had it that Frederick VI, who would have been his half-brother paid for it. In fact the young man was buried on Chemin Mehul not far from Brongniart himself who died in 1813. These were just rumours no evidence was ever presented to prove it.

The story went that at his funeral was a young woman dressed in black, a not unusual fact or occurrence, but Claude said the same young women returned to the grave every year for 25 years and then was replaced by another and another until now 200 years later the eighth 'Lady in Black' would come and bring with her the next young woman who would then visit the grave for another 24 years.

Claude had been told the story and watched the woman who he knew as Anna-Elise come every year to place three white calla lilies and one red rose on the grave. Today was her 25th visit and she would bring with her the new 'Lady in Black'. Claude knew the current lady by fore name only and he had won the right to know her name because every year he spoke to her after four years she had finally answered his many questions with her name.

The story said that each lady seemed to choose at the beginning of her 25 year span to either come on the 28th of February or the 1st of March and she had to keep to that but on a leap year she had to come on 29th February. Anna-Elise always came on the 1st March but this year being a leap year she would come on the 29th February.

Noah had seen how much the event meant to Claude and had agreed to be passed on the secret. He had no real interest in the story and no intention of looking for the next Lady for the next 24 years in fact he hoped not to be working at the cemetery for the next year let alone 24 years.

Claude took them to the division of Chemin Denon, Chemin du Coq and Chemin Mehul where they would be able to see the Lady in Black walk past.

Chapter 2

At exactly 2 pm, as Claude had said, the Lady in Black, Anna-Elise, walked past them and she smiled at Claude. She wore all black, as the name would suggest. It was a cold day and she wore a belted classic Yves Saint Laurent coated-twill trench coat, covering a fitted dress, black stocking or tights and a pair of St Laurent black heels. She wore black gloves and a black hat with a black veil. She carried the three white lilies and solitary red rose. Her face was still beautiful and Noah suspected she would be about the same age as Claude around 45. She had her hair tied back, it was auburn in colour and she had azure blue eyes and pale skin. Her walk and deportment, not just her clothes, showed she was a woman of means and breeding.

A younger woman around 25 followed her. She had long blonde hair tied into a high ponytail; she was not wearing a hat but had a veil across part of her face, which was attached to a plain hair clip. She wore a pair of black leather boots with metal-heels which had a silver snake wrapped around them and a leather trench coat, which was belted. She did not look at Claude and Noah and walked straight past her head held up. She carried a small teal coloured box with a white bow which was the distinctive design of Tiffany and Co. Noah wondered what it contained and why she had brought it to the cemetery. Claude and Noah followed the women at a distance and stopped to watch as first Anna-Elise entered the tomb.

The tomb was larger than most at Pere and she was able to enter by opening the marble door and place her flowers on the altar inside, kneel and offer a small prayer then turnaround and leave. Once outside she passed on the key she had used to open the tomb to the younger woman. She took the key smiled and hugged Anna-Elise then she entered the tomb, with the Tiffany box, and closed the door behind her. This meant Claude and Noah could not see what she did inside. After 10 minutes she emerged, without the Tiffany box, closed and locked the door and walked off towards Avenue de la Chapelle.

Noah wondered what had happened to the box and why she had left it in the tomb. What on earth could a dead person do with it? Tiffany boxes would hold something expensive and if the new lady brought such a trinket how many more were inside the tomb? While he contemplated his many questions he caught a glimpse of a man, dressed in black head to toe but with spiky blond short hair, who seemed to have stood and watched the bizarre act of the Ladies in Black.

He turned to Claude and asked "Who is the Billy Idol look alike standing by the painted tomb over there?" as he pointed the stranger turned and walked briskly away. Noah noticed another man taking photographs, a man with short blonde hair with a nasty looking scar on his left cheek, he had definitely taken a photo of the other man.

"Who? I don't see anyone" Claude looked forward as Anna-Elise walked over to him. She was smiling and she took off her hat and allowed her hair to fall at her shoulders.

Noah was again hit by how beautiful she was, how soft her skin looked and how soft it would feel to the touch. She wore so little make-up if any. Noah understood why some of his friends had such a passion for older women.

"Claude I am now free and we can now be together as we wanted"

Noah noted what had been said she and Claude wanted to be together and yet Claude had said they had not talked very much.

"I should explain Noah" Claude said" Anna-Elise and I have spoken on many occasions not about why or what she has done here but about our life when she finished. You see she made a vow to remain pure, unmarried and unattached for the 25 years she was the Lady in Black. Now she has finished her term she is free to find love and marry. I have waited 21 years for today. She is coming with me to Versailles"

"You mean she is ...I mean she has ...I am not sure I understand" Noah really didn't know what to say. Was she a 40 plus year old virgin?

"Yes, Noah I am a virgin. I began my vow when I was 17 and yes I am 41 tomorrow, and have never kissed, laid or known the touch of a man. I am not a nun, I have no religious affiliations, but part of the vow demands purity. I can't answer any of your questions about the vow or the tomb. My vow of confidentiality and silence on that remain for life. I first saw Claude who was just 18 when I started to come here. Eventually 21 years ago he plucked up the courage to talk to me and we have spoken every year since. No, we have not met outside of the one day a year -- it was not allowed. But we have fallen in love and today we are free to be together. Yes, I can read your thoughts that is how Claude and I have our relationship we have learnt to share our thoughts because I was not allowed to 'talk' to him. I can't talk about my replacement but I can tell you she is called Alice, I have her permission to tell you that, all of us have to have a name beginning with A and I don't know why. No I do not know who the man was to be honest I never saw any man"

Noah was shocked and aware he had his mouth gapping open. She had answered every question he thought of. He could see clearly that she and Claude were indeed in love and he remembered that Claude was not married. So he wondered.

"No, I have kept myself celibate since we agreed to wait for each other alas I have experience of woman, from before I met her, I wish I was a virgin but I am not but I have been true to Anna-Elise" and Claude grabbed her hand and walked off down towards the Avenue Casimir Perier kissing her hand as they walked enthralled with each other.

Chapter 3

The rest of the day Noah spent with Claude, Anna-Elise, Rene and the others who came to the party held at a local hotel to celebrate Claude's moving to work at the palace and his new life with Anna-Elise. Before Claude left he said goodbye to all his guests and then walked over to Noah.

"You will continue to watch the new Lady in Black?"

"I will, even when I no longer work at Pere, I am fascinated by all of this. I will research what I can of the man in the tomb"

"You will waste your time I have done that in fact I have a gift for you come with me"

Claude led Noah to a small room of the main reception area of the hotel. Once inside Claude closed the door and picked up the satchel he always carried. He took out a large folder full of papers. Noah had often wondered why the satchel always looked so heavy now he knew. Claude passed him the folder. Noah opened it and saw the content was about Christian Romero, his tomb and history and contained old pictures of women in black.

"I researched myself and added to the work of the two men preceding me, who like me will watched the Lady in Black each year. It covers the last 100 years. All of the ladies once they died were buried here in Pere-Lachaise you will find them in divisions 41 and 35 in small plots. The last one Amanda Trufant died in 1988 just before her 47th birthday. It may help you if you want to follow on this work." From his pocket he removed a skeleton key "It opens the doors to all of the tombs in Pere but not this one maybe you can find a way in somehow I am sure. I have tried to find additions to the key and because of Anna-Elise I have never tried to force open the door it would have been wrong. I knew when I was told you wanted to be like Indiana Jones you were the right person for this task. I like you want to know what it is all about. Oh and for the records Anna-Elise her last name is Dante I didn't know it until today so it's not in the folder"

Noah wrote the new piece of information on the top page of the folder.

With that he hugged Noah and left the room. Anna-Elsie and Claude went of to their new life. A month later they had a large white wedding that Noah attended, and they bought a house near the palace. It seems cliché but they lived happily ever after.

Chapter 4

Noah spent the next three days reading the information contained in the file much to the annoyance of his occasional roommate and on and off girlfriend Missy Dallough.

Missy was a law student from Manhattan. Her father Bryan was head of an entertainment group and Missy was going to join the firm in its legal department when she passed. Daddy had thought a law degree from the Sorbonne would be more media than one from Yale. Sorbonne sounded class and bling as Missy always told Noah. She was obviously Daddy's little Princess and she had Daddy's credit cards. She was a beautiful girl, with wild curly copper hair and bright green eyes, a perfect, surgery, pixie nose and Cupid's bow lips. She was a size 2 and could buy and wear the best creations Paris offered. She wore killer heels mainly because she stood sans shoes at 5 foot 3 inches.

They had met through a mutual friend at a drinks party the previous year. It had been a wild meeting both very drunk they had found themselves having sex on the balcony within 30 minutes of meeting. They had a difficult relationship mainly because Noah being a sponsored student had to work to help support himself and had no rich Daddy to bankroll his extra curricular activities.

Noah D'Estaing was being sponsored from a scholarship fund set up by a wealthy French artist Amarante Donovan who lived in LA and painted borderline, pornographic, art pictures. She had wanted to sponsor young artists and/or architectural historians. Noah was both and hoped once he had finished his studies to follow his hero Paul Faure into archaeology. He was one of four students at the Sorbonne she supported.

Amarante had sponsored him throughout his studies from honours degree and Masters. But her sponsorship was limited and paid for his tuition, course fees, materials, IT Equipment, books and related travel. His apartment and associated bills were paid for but anything else he had to find himself. He didn't mind he knew how privileged he was to have her sponsorship.

Noah was an only child and his parents had a modest lifestyle they weren't rich and they weren't poor. His mother owned a popular high-class beauty spa in Lyons and his father was an accountant. They gave him as much support as they could though most was in the form of love rather than finance. They sent him an allowance of €1,000 a month which he thought was generous but with Missy around it often didn't last long. His work at Pere paid him a modest amount but it was far better than working for McDonalds as he had before, working long night shifts and smelling of burgers had limited his already limited social life.

Missy didn't understand why the old bird wasn't paying it all and she often stopped being his girlfriend when she tired of paying for everything adding the comment it would be cheaper to hire a prostitute than date you. Right now they were on again and she had decided that she would live with him for a few weeks before she went home to the US for summer break. Unfortunately she decided to live with him just when he got the Lady in Black information.

The apartment he had was generous, or at least he thought, with one large double bedroom, one small single box-room where Noah stored his weights and study materials, one bathroom and an open plan living area which was made up by the living room, kitchen and a study area. Missy said it was compact which meant small and she didn't like its location not too far from the Gare Du Nord "why cant the old bird get you something decent she makes pots from that porn she passes as art." Missy had a beautiful large three-bedroom place out towards the Pont du Neuf where Daddy's money bought the right address, right quality accommodation, right location and right friends.

Today she was being annoying Noah wanted her to go home, go out anything but be with him because he wanted to do his research but she kept sighing loudly, talking, walking around singing and dancing to the music on her iPod, moaning that he didn't have a TV, moving his papers and now she had decided to sit on his lap.

"Arty you are so boring, Lets go shop or eat. This is just some old paper and they smell. In fact Arty you smell" he hated when she called him Arty. It wasn't his name and as a nickname he failed to see what connection he had to it.

"Missy I have research to do. You know how important my work is" Noah was by now very angry.

"Oh Arty you are so sexy when your mad" she planted a life-sucking kiss on his lips and began pulling at his white t-shirt. He struggled free to catch his breath.

"Missy! Please let me study for one more hour"

"No, I am sick of this" and she pushed the papers on the table to the floor with one move.

Noah was livid and stood up knocking her away so he could pick up the documents he had meticulously put in order that were now scattered on the floor. Missy sat herself on his desk and kicked his chair to the floor. She pulled off the tight black t-shirt she was wearing to reveal her naked breasts; she crossed her legs and laid her self-back supported by the piles of papers and books covering his desk.

"Missy not now! I promise later"

Missy never liked the word no, in fact no one every said no to her, and she wasn't giving way now. Noah stood with his now reclaimed papers and debated whether just to simply push her off the desk or to get rid of her by screwing her. Her body did not sway his decision, though it was okay, but the fact that if he did screw her she would buy him dinner and he was hungry and broke did help sway his decision. HIs monthly allowance from his parents and pay from Pere wouldn't be deposited in his bank until the next day. His head told him no but his stomach told him yes. He turned and put the papers on the second smaller desk where his MacBook was sitting, Internet open, awaiting his research requests. He quickly logged out of his computer shut the lid down and turned towards Missy.

He put out his hand and beckoned her to follow him. Sex on his desk was always a no. No matter how hungry he was. He walked towards the double bedroom. There was a large metal-framed double bedstead with the bed still unmade from when they had left it that morning. Missy had been home all day but chores well it wasn't a word she understood and it could damage her manicure. Missy thought he should get a maid after all everyone else she knew had them. Noah had been to Pere working and had no got around to housework.

Missy followed him giggling like a little schoolgirl. Noah ran his hands through his hair, under his chin and across his face. He stretched his arms and back to relieve the aches of sitting scrunched up reading his papers and then began to take off his white t-shirt.

Missy having already taken off her shirt set to work on her Camilla Skovgaard ankle boots and Current/Elliot arrow print skinny jeans. She was naked she rarely wore knickers with jeans. Noah took of his black Levi jeans and stood in front off her wearing just his white D&G briefs. Missy had bought them and he was glad he had worn them today. It would put her in a good mood to spend lots on dinner.

She put her long red painted nail of the index finger of her left hand to her lip, she thought it was cute Noah thought it stupid, and moved her right hand out to touch his chest. Like most men his age who cared about their body Noah had an entire body that was hills and valleys of muscle carved into flesh and less than 5% body fat. He had worked hard to get it, and keep it, in tiptop condition. He knew he looked good naked he had sculpted his look on that of the now infamous white pants bloke from the perfume ad. He had a tattoo on his left shoulder that he thought was sexy but women seemed to ignore.

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