(originally written 7/24/08)
“Et puis, on a reçu cette message encore ce soir,” he announced. “We received this message tonight,” he added for the English speakers in the room.
Mira looked up at the message on the screen.
Tell me when you have my plum and tell her I am perfectly all right for now.
She exhaled in relief, but then her brow furrowed. Why had Etienne mentioned encore — again? He wouldn’t dare send the same message over and over without reason… She shifted forward in her seat then stood. “Excusez-moi, Monsieur Leclerc. Cela, c’est la texte originale?” Is that the original text?
The board members around the table turned to her quizzically.
“Vous parlez français, mademoiselle?” one asked.
“Bien sûr,” she answered, dismissing the question as irrelevant. “C’est l’originale?”
Olivier moused around his computer screen, looking thoughtful. “Euh, non…” He brought up a new image. “Cela — this is a scan of the original.”
Her eyes darted over the screen. The text of the message was the same, but there appeared to be stray marks all over the page. She ran through the words quickly, trying to translate in her head.
“Ah beh beh beh ah… ah beh beh ah beh, Monsieur Abe, oh c’est drôle, ça…”
Olivier spoke tentatively. “Mademoiselle Rousseau?”
“Attendez,” she said. Wait.
A minute later she sighed. “C’est comme vous déjà savez,” she said. “La police connaissent le visage de Monsieur Laroche.” It is as you already know; the police know the face of Monsieur Laroche.
“Expliquez,” demanded Etienne. His voice was quiet and low—dangerous.
Mira froze for a moment. In her rush of relief that Lucas was alive and sending messages, she had forgotten his instructions. Well, no turning back now.
“Le message a dit ‘plum’ et c’est moi.” The message said “plum” and that’s me.
“Pourquoi?” demanded Etienne, his face betraying no emotion whatsoever.
“Parce que…” she faltered. “Moi, je m’appelle Mira. C’est pour ‘Mirabelle.’” Because my name is Mira. Short for Mirabelle.
Etienne’s eyes hardened. Slowly, he spoke, each word slow and deafening in the still silence of the room. “Quand j’ai dit, comment vous appellez-vous, je ne voulais pas un sobriquet.” When I asked for your name, I didn’t want a nickname.
Mira almost flinched at his anger, but forced herself to stand straight. He was being unfair—she had just given him information, she was trying to be helpful, but he responded with fury.
She looked him in the eye and said slowly and deliberately, “Mon nom registré avec le gouvernment des Etats Unis est Mirabelle Emmeline Rousseau.” My registered name with the government of the United States is Mirabelle Emmeline Rousseau.
The tension in the room stretched a little tighter.
Mira refused to look away from Etienne’s eyes. “C’est tout?” she asked quietly. Is that all?
He stared her down for a few more tense moments. He finally said, “Oui.”
“Alors,” she said, still not looking away from him as she tried to put her accusation into her gaze. Finally she looked away, turning instead to the deathly silent board members. “Excusez-moi, mesdames, messieurs.” She pushed away from the table, turned on her heel, and stalked out of the room.
Out in the hallway Mira started slowly in a random direction with a vague idea of a bed.
She paused, shaking with temper and exhaustion.
Olivier came running up, his footsteps light and muffled by the carpeted floors. “Mira…”
“Hi,” she said.
“You’ll have to excuse Etienne in there,” he began, but she cut him off.
“What, you make his apologies for him?”
“No…” he said, watching her carefully. “He lost his temper, and you dealt with it admirably.”
She almost laughed at that. “I completely lost it.”
“No,” he disagreed. “You had information to volunteer, so you did. When he accused you, you answered his question. You didn’t say a word about unfairness, just did as he asked. He knows he was wrong—believe me, especially after that look you gave him.”
She scoffed, the halfhearted laugh of someone sleep-deprived and trying hard to take the world lightly.
He smiled, guiding her to a chair further down the hall. “Don’t worry,” he assured her. “Etienne’ll come around. We were all just surprised that you could find a message in something we’ve been staring at for weeks.”
“Weeks?” she asked.
“Yeah, since the first week of September. Out of curiosity, how did you solve it?”
She sighed again. “That message—it was from my friend Lucas. He was the only other French-speaking person at my high school, and he used to tease me about my name meaning ‘plum.’
We used to pass notes in class using ciphers and codes, so we could pretend to be passing a lecture handout, but have a hidden message in it. The one he used on that message in there was a Bacon’s cipher. I asked for the original because the ciphers depend on other visual clues, like those marks on the paper. A mark meant ‘A’ and the lack thereof meant ‘B.’ If you take every five characters as a block, they encode a letter. Like… ‘A-B-A-B-A’ encodes for ‘L.’”
Olivier smirked in disbelief. “You commit this to memory?”
She shrugged. “We were doing this for three and a half years…”
“Ah. Well then, what did that message encode?” he asked.
“Um…” She was struggling against sleep, and her memory was not being very helpful. “P-O-L-C-K-N-O-L-R-O-C-H. Which, based on the way he spaced the message in the original, read ‘P-O-L-C’ or police, ‘K-N-O’ or know, and ‘L-R-O-C-H’—”
“Laroche,” he said for her. “So they’d recognize him now…”
“Impressive,” he sighed. “Well, we’ve got a backlog of these messages to translate, so that’ll keep me busy for a bit.”
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