The International Writers Magazine: Extract from a novella
Eponine in Paris
Excerpt From “The Third Eye of the Needle”
Novella by Dean Borok
In this futuristic romance fantasy, South Texas girl Eponine LaHarpe, is born with a third eye, but she is still very beautiful. She is hired as a fashion model in Paris, where the public goes crazy for her third eye look, and she becomes the symbol for the new French Revolution. Later, she becomes a Bombay cinema movie star and marries Asia's richest movie producer, with tragic consequences. The Third Eye of the Needle takes the reader on a whirlwind voyage around a futuristic world, where reality is turned upside-down, but a kiss is still a kiss.
The Paris that Eponine was traveling to was different from the one that we know today. It was a world of trouble and anxiety. Many of the historical contradictions that its leaders had stealthfully sidestepped or postponed had finally overwhelmed their analytical powers. The Corsican, Basque and Breton nationalist movements had formed an alliance with resurgent Germanophile elements from the Alsace and were active in the capital, planting bombs and committing kidnappings and assassinations. These areas of France were in open revolt, along with other regions that felt neglected or exploited by the central authority.
The French armed forces were stretched to the breaking point containing disruptions and riots which seemed to break out on a daily basis. Corsica was uncontainable. The population had risen up in open revolt, forcing the evacuation of all non-Corsican French, who saw their property confiscated or blown up. The French policy of double-dealing and duplicity in their relations with the Arab and Sub-Saharan governments of Africa had finally exploded in their face, and the large minority populations of the French urban agglomerations provided a fertile recruiting ground for elements of a treacherous and deadly fifth column of saboteurs and terrorist gangs who haunted the dark streets of the popular quarters and the underground train networks.
Reeling from the expense of providing security in this unstable environment, the government had prevailed upon the European Central Bank to increase the money supply, inflating the European currency and threatening to spread the contagion to the other countries of Europe. The welfare state had become unworkable and unemployment skyrocketed. Whole quarters of Paris had become no-man's land, where armies of squatters had dislodged residents and inhabited their property. Barricades were set up where no agent of authority dare enter. These areas became the so-called "Provisional Republics", which had their own mayors, presidents or assemblies. Some were elected; some were just dominated by the strongest clan or gang of thugs. There was the "Republic of Belleville", "The Republic of St. Antoine" and so on. In some of these "republics" relative order prevailed, but in others, like Clignancourt, it was just partying and chaos all the time.
The government had recruited security forces wherever it was convenient. Many CRS units were composed entirely of recruits from Eastern Europe who spoke no French, were commanded by dubious officers and had no sympathy for the French. Though the authorities referred to them as "auxiliaries", in reality they considered these units to be the most reliable. The native French security units, many of which were composed of pardoned criminals and former football hooligans were posted in the immigrant neighborhoods. The conditions in the capital varied from block to block. One street might contain raucous, garishly-dressed revolutionaries, self-proclaimed "déguelasses" sporting the traditional red "bonnet stygian" of revolution, openly brandishing automatic weapons, sabers and explosives; while one street down a company of seething, black-uniformed security forces might be poised, awaiting orders. On a third street life might be approaching normal, with kids returning from lycée and people sunning themselves at outdoor cafes.
Armed robbery, bank-heists and assault were endemic. The major car manufacturers introduced lines of popular-priced armor-plated automobiles for the mass market. Firearms and gasmasks became major fashion accessories in coordinated pastel shades. Parisians, ever street-smart, learned to dress inconspicuously and confined their movements to ”axes de sécurité", which were broadcast over the media the same as efficient traffic routes, along with daily reports on the number of bodies found floating in the Seine. Neighborhoods hired private security guards much the same as in Rio or Johannesburg.
Nevertheless, even the most heavily-guarded quarters were not safe from assaults and kidnappings because of the vast interconnected network of catacombs, underground tunnels and abandoned mines, some dating back to the original Roman colonists, which extended for literally hundreds of kilometers in every direction, just a few meters beneath the streets of the modern capital. Using this web of tunnels, it was possible to walk from Montrouge to Chaillot by way of Montparnasse and Montmartre without ever running into a police control. These catacombs, which contained the bones of millions of Parisians who had died from the plague and other disasters in past centuries, issued onto the street by way of obscure passageways known only to initiates. Bands of terrorists would sneak out onto the street, frequently in broad daylight and abduct people for purposes of ransom or enslavement and then lead them, blindfolded, back to their doom.
Parisians went to church and prayed for a return to the old ways, but in their hearts they knew that these conditions did not just spring up from nowhere. They were the result of a convergence of historical forces which had been a long time building and which would have to be played out with unpredictable results. Even the emergence of a strong man or an authoritarian system of government would not have solved these problems because the contributing causes were not confined to the borders of France. As a result, people tried to hang on to the semblance of a normal life. They became hardened to the possibility of losing friends, acquaintances, family members. They celebrated birthdays, had assignations in "hotels de passe", went to the theater, lived day-to-day. Such was it, such has it ever been.
||Mr. Rabinovitch had Eponine installed in a lovely studio on the rue des Trois Magots in the peaceful fifteenth arrondissement. It was a modest but modern apartment on a quiet, tree-lined street that was closed to traffic, with a police box on either corner. Eponine quickly became caught up in the hectic routine of a Paris model. Most of her time was taken up by hair, make-up and wardrobe consultations, and with grueling photographic sessions which had to be endlessly reshot to conform to the exacting demands of the creative team.
Proofs were rejected out-of-hand or sent to the computer artists to be retouched. The final product was then sent back to the editors who derived new ideas and started the project all over again. She was photographed standing up, sitting down, indoors, at the beach in Normandy, in daylight, at night, around Paris or in the country, against a starry sky or at a barricade surrounded by revolutionaries. She was dressed in Dior, Gauthier, St. Laurent, La Croix and Versace, with blonde hair, blue hair, fuchsia hair, green hair and no hair. Her third eye was graphically shifted several millimeters around her face, though only marginally, so as not to lose that certain je ne sais quoi that "nature" had endowed her with. Once she had been shot in every imaginable fashion and from every possible angle, the job was given over to the technicians and creative editing staff, and Eponine suddenly found herself with a lot of time on her hands, though she was given a telephone and informed that she was on 24-hour call, in case somebody came up with another bright idea for a new shot.
She was also instructed not to remove her sunglasses in public, even at night, for fear of letting the cat out of the bag too soon in a city swarming with designers and creative directors desperate for new influences. She had time to do all the touristy things, like Napoleon's tomb and the Mona Lisa. She went shopping on Avenue Montaigne and at the Forum des Halles. She enrolled in French lessons and ate mounds of cold crustaceans at Place Clichy. She was instructed to confine her movements to the "safe" arrondissements in the west of Paris and to avoid the east and the neighborhoods on the far side of Sacre Coeur church.
Nevertheless, kids being what they are, she discovered the night clubs of Paris, many of which are not located in the loveliest areas, the attractions of the "liberated" zones having among them a total lack of police presence. In some of these places it was the wild west all over again, with night clubs with names like Dodge City, where shoot-outs and “réglements de compte" were nightly occurrences. Gangs of ”motards", burly bikers with kalashnikovs and bandoleers of ammunition strapped across their bodies commanded the streets on huge bikes and shot each other up over sideways looks or disputes over women or drug-dealing. Outlandishly-dressed wolf-packs of kids armed with chains, knuckle-dusters and bayonets assaulted anybody who looked like he might be holding a few euros, or even if he didn't. Gang-rapes and kidnappings were the order of the day, and an illicit economy based on narcotics and white slavery flourished. All-in-all, it was a normal Saturday night. Into this mess flowed Eponine and a few of her friends from the agency who had pooled their money and rented a couple of armed bodyguards to accompany them to the Club Corinth on the rue Sauvequipeut in Bercy.
The Club Corinthe was a supermarket of vice under one roof where drugs, sex and weapons were available to the one-stop shopper, accompanied by a relentless, pounding Arab-Breton beat. People fornicated in the leatherette banquettes, impervious to the still-warm cadavers of freshly-overdosed junkies elongated right next to them. Articles of discarded clothing and used condoms were strewn about the floor, as men in various stages of undress chased about screaming blondes. People in studded leather harnesses writhed in cages suspended from the ceiling.
"My goodness, what daddy would say if he saw me here now!" Eponine declared. Ol' VD would not likely have approved. In his wildest, whiskey-besotted hallucinations he could not have come close to picturing a scene like this! America was a place where everybody went to bed early and showed up for work on time so they could keep up with their credit card payments. Even the perverts were moralists.
Not that it helped much. Like the rest of the world, the American economy was teetering on the knife-edge of ruination, only bigger. After decades of unrestrained looting of the treasury by successive right-wing governments, the treasury was broke and the whole mess was only kept afloat by the anticipated interest payments of a population of heavily indebted credit card junkies, euphemistically referred to as consumers. The only difference was that the security apparatus was more adept at suppressing the insurrectionary tendencies of a populace that had been bled white by usury.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, Argentina had enjoyed the same standard of living as the United States, and its future prospects were bright - a hard-working and culturally elevated population, surrounded by abundant natural resources on every side. However, decades of mismanagement and stealing by an unthinking oligarchy denuded the economy and led to chaos and dictatorship. It's an old saw that bears repeating: those who do not learn from the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them. Oligarchy leads to dictatorship and to ruination.
Eponine and her girlfriends sat in the semi-circular booth flanked by the mean-looking bodyguards. They passed around joints of hash and drank strong, liquorice-tasting green drinks. Frankly, they would've liked to get up and dance, but the bodyguards, smartly dressed Arabs with scars on their faces, cautioned them against it. A man came to the table dressed in a slick-looking black silk suit, purple shirt and striped silk tie. He also had Levantine features and skin coloring. He asked Eponine in French if she would like to dance. Eponine looked to the bodyguards and they nodded that it would be allright. One told her, "Stay where we can keep an eye on you."
They danced for a while. He told her that his name was Ali Muhammed and that he was Egyptian. He spoke English. Ali invited Eponine for a drink at the bar, and when she told him what the bodyguard had said, he told her, "I'll take care of it." He led her back to the booth and started speaking to the bodyguards peaceably in Arabic. They responded
argumentatively, but they all seemed to arrive at an accord. One of the bodyguards discreetly opened his suit jacket to reveal a huge automatic pistol stuck in the waistband of his pants.
"Pas de problème", said Ali.
Ali led Eponine to the crowded bar and ordered two drinks. "Why don't you remove your sunglasses so I can see your eyes?" he asked.
"Can't do it. Doctor's orders."
"You like Paris?"
"Where do you live?"
"Quinzième," said Eponine. "Where do you live?"
"Oh my dear! Isn't that dangerous?"
"Bah! In my country I was policeman."
"What do you do in Paris," she asked.
"Tai Kwon Do. I was African heavyweight champion."
"I see what you mean. About not being afraid."
"I fear no man. What are you doing in Paris?"
"Photographic model for Agence Publicis."
"You must be very rich. Rich American. You marry me, we go to America."
"Do you want to live in America?"
"Everybody wants to live in America. I want to go to New York."
"What would you do in New York?"
"Security work. Teach Tai Kwon Do. I don't know. Everything. Do you know New York?"
"I've never been to New York," she said, adding, "I'm from Houston."
"Aah, Texas. John Wayne."
"Right, John Wayne."
"Right, John Wayne, bang-bang. Apaches." He pronounced it a-pasch.”
"You know, A-pasch. Indians."
"Oh! We pronounce it ah-PATCH-ee."
"You know some?"
"I don't think there are any left."
"Where did they go?"
"They killed them."
"But we gotta' lotta' Mexicans."
"Silly, we're right over the border from Mexico. They swim over."
"You know some?"
Some kind of mayhem was taking place at the end of the bar. A fight had broken out and the security, such as it was, rushed over brandishing clubs and pump-action shotguns. Ali put his arm around Eponine protectively. "Come back to your table." He accompanied her back. The two bodyguards, who were on their feet, started barking at him and gesturing in the direction of the ruckus at the bar. One of them roughly pushed Eponine into the booth next to her girlfriends. Ali stood his ground calmly. He asked Eponine politely, "You give me your phone number?"
"I'll give you my cell phone."
The day finally arrived when the first billboards featuring Eponine appeared around Paris. She was shown in profile, a wizened Mona Lisa half-smile on her face. Some posters showed her in the moonlight with the ruins of Jumièges and a starry sky in the background. Others had her at the Mediterranean Sea in bright sunshine, a school of dolphins leaping through the air.
Agence Avertis had it put about that Eponine and her third eye were no photographic gimmick, but a veritable phenomenon of natural selection, selected to underline the fact that Second Regard was a leap of evolutionary progress. They had cooked up a public relations campaign to emphasize that since the primary element of computer technology was silicon, the most common of materials, computers and by extension Second Regard, were nature's way of extending human technological capacity. It was cute and it made sense in the upper-middle-brow style that Europeans adore.
Eponine's third eye soon became an icon which touched a nerve in all strata of Paris society. Now that her secret was out, and she was permitted to go in public without her shades, she was mobbed on the Champs-Elysses and at La Coupole. A private security unit was assigned to protect her. She was interviewed on television and radio, and was given coverage in French newspapers and magazines. Le Monde published a laudatory article alluding to her magnetic charm, but ending on a cautionary note: "When the young Prince Paris of Greek mythology was selected by Zeus to award the Golden Apple of Beauty to the fairest of the Goddesses of Olympus, he gave it to Aphrodite in return for a promise by her that the most beautiful woman in the world should be his. That was the Judgment of Paris, famed throughout history as the reason why the Trojan War would be fought."
Back in America, Eponine's success in France was given perfunctory coverage as another oddity of European behavior. From the American point of view, a person such as herself was considered to be deserving of pity and compassion, but someone marginal and certainly not of noteworthiness. The American subsidiary of Agence Avertis made a decision to forego Eponine in favor of the family approach of a mother, father and two kids operating a computer together. Nevertheless, when Ol' VD showed his wife the full-page ads and color photos of in Paris Match of her daughter that Eponine had sent over from Paris, Cosette poured all her whiskey down the drain, joined a gym and enrolled in French lessons.
As the Second Regard campaign picked up steam, Eponine's fame snowballed. She traded her studio for a large apartment in an historic seventeenth century building off the Boulevard St. Germain. The third eye quickly became a fashion item appearing on blouses, handbags, all manner of accessories. A neo-classical painting by Jean-Louis David featuring the Declaration of the Rights of Man topped off by an all-seeing eye became an ubiquitous staple in cafes and boutiques. Girls started sporting stick-on third eyes, sometimes several at a time, all over their faces and clothes. Flags bearing a large eye on a white background began replacing the red flag of revolution and the black flag of anarchy at the top of barricades. The famous Italian porn star, La P****** quickly issued an adult video in which she allegedly spread her legs to reveal - you got it, a winking eye!
Eponine was under perpetual siege in her apartment on the rue de l'Ancienne Comédie. Her neighbors, including the venerable Comédie Française, which had inhabited that location for hundreds of years without ever having to confront a similar situation, filed suit to compel her to move. She found it necessary to keep the curtains drawn all day and night to guard her privacy from the paparazzi who had infested all the buildings across the street, and who had bribed their way into the apartments facing her courtyard windows. The telephone in her apartment had to be disconnected, and she was forced to change her cell phone with increasing frequency as the number became discovered, as it inevitably did.
She prevailed upon Ali to move in with her, as he had been her first real friend in Paris. She had gone back to wearing dark glasses, even at home, and when she went out the way had to be cleared for her by a phalanx of burly gardes du corps as she rushed to a waiting car. The car was in turn harassed by paparazzi on motorbikes who had to be swatted away by other security men driving interference in following cars. During one of these cat-and-mouse affairs she started sobbing uncontrollably in the back seat and had to be comforted by Ali. He wiped her tears with a handkerchief. "There, there," he said.
"How much longer can this continue," she cried.
"Isn't this what you wanted?" he asked, not unreasonably. "For somebody like you there's no half-way. It's either all or nothing. Where would you be if it weren't for this? How would you work? Who would marry you?"
"Well, you seen to be taking it all calmly enough!," she sniffed.
"You shouldn't worry. You should only worry if it ends."
Eponine had been hoping for the focus on her to calm down. She hadn't considered the ramifications of it all coming to an end. The future prospects of a former advertising model with a third eye didn't seem too alluring. She abruptly stopped crying and pointedly asked him, "Well, what do you think I should do?"
"Not you. What we should do. I couldn't abandon you until I know that you're going to be OK."
Hearing this, Eponine threw her arms around Ali and embraced him. "I always knew you were a prince,” she gushed. "Now what's your plan?"
Ali spoke with the certitude that comes with deep reflection. "Well, let's look at the big picture: The French love you, but not in England and not in America. These are the richest countries, and they don't love you."
"It's true. They don't."
"So! We have to make them love you!"
"How do we do that?"
"You have to follow in the footsteps of Princess Diana."
"How do I do that?"
Here Ali became very animated. "We crash the car at exactly the same place as Princess Diana. Then you wake up in the hospital and say that Princess Diana visited you while you were sleeping. Then you go out and save all the children and land-mine victims. Very simple, no?"
"No!" Eponine exclaimed, appalled. For one thing, I could die in the crash!"
"No plan is without risk. I could die too, because I would be driving the car. But if we can do this, this would be the hardest thing. Then we would be rich forever. And you could do good things. What about other children like you, who are born with deformities? You could help them. And you wouldn't have to lie for your whole life. Only one time."
"Do you think anybody would believe it?"
"If they want to believe, they'll believe. How can they say it's not true? It's only a dream in the first place. Can they say you didn't dream it? If you say it, they'll report it, and then we'll see."
Ali started taking the commuter train out of town to the cités, the immigrant housing projects that ring the periphery of Paris. He hot-wired cars, took them to deserted roadways, and crashed them. "I have to go practice," he would tell Eponine.
The night for the crash finally arrived. Ali told Eponine, "I'll go get the car. Put on something white. That way it'll look worse when they take you out."
She said, "I'm scared. I can't go through with it."
"Breathe deep," he said. "Try to relax. I practiced a lot. You just have to get on the floor and cover your head like I showed you. We're not even going to hurt the car very much. Just enough.
"Come down in five minutes."
Ali went down to the street and walked up to the boulevard St. Germain, where Eponine's motorcade was idling. It consisted of a white Mercedes sandwiched between a white Peugeot and a two-tone gold and black Citroen. Ali went around to the driver's side of the Mercedes and told the driver in French. "There's been a change. I'm driving. You ride in the last car." He got in and tooted the horn as a signal to begin. The three cars slowly turned the corner onto the rue de l'Ancien Comédie and pulled in front of number 17. The door to the courtyard opened and Eponine stepped out wearing a very short white lace cocktail dress and white boots. She had her sunglasses on.
Though it was dusk, the street lit up instantly from the glare of photographic lighting. Gendarmes fought back the crowd to clear a corridor for Eponine to get to the car. One policeman opened the car door for her and gave her a little salute as she bent to enter. They took off. A second later they were at the Seine, rushing toward the Pont de l'Alma. On both sides paparazzi on motorbikes buzzed them, trying to get in position for a shot. The paparazzi rode two to a bike, with the one in back holding the camera. "Where are we supposed to be going?" asked Eponine as she clutched the armrest to steady herself from all the crazy driving. As Ali weaved wildly through the traffic, camera flashes popped like tiny flashes of lightning. "Champs-Elysses."
They crossed the Seine at the Pont Alexandre IV. The gilded ornamentation of the bridge shined brightly in the reflected glow of the street lamps. Eponine caught a glimpse of the Grand Palais as Ali swerved left onto the highway which hugged the right bank of the river. Ali peered through the windshield, shifting gears furiously. "We'll be there in a minute. When I tell you, get onto the floor and curl yourself up in a fetal position. Cover your head with your arms." He increased speed, but not fast enough to shake off the photographers. He wanted them right there with him when he crashed.
The car descended into the tunnel. "Now!," he shouted. Eponine fell down to the floor. Ali aimed straight for the exact pillar where Diana had died, then he hit the brakes and turned the steering wheel sharply to the right. The car careened wildly. The left rear fender hit the post and continued skidding sideways against the barrier, sending off a shower of sparks.
The driver's air bag inflated, pinning Ali. They skidded sideways and came to dead halt in the middle of the road.
"Are you all right," Ali asked coolly.
"Well, play dead. Go to sleep. Wait for the ambulance." As though on cue, Eponine passed out.
Out in the tunnel, there was dead silence as the witnesses to the crash let their minds catch up with the reality of events. All at once the paparazzi dismounted and swooped down on the car, taking pictures in a feeding frenzy which resembled nothing so much as a swarm of ravenous piranha feasting on bloody carrion.
*You can buy the novella here
© Dean Borok Jan 2015
Police Line: Do Not Cross
Police Line: Do Not Cross
A lot of this sloganeering of “Support the Police” can be construed as a declaration of war on Black people.
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