“I’m sorry I must turn you out so soon,” she said to him an hour later, when he was quite revived and the soup had been scrubbed from his uniform. “You might have been seen coming in, and if you do not leave presently I’m sure there will be some pointed questions asked. But don’t fear, Joseph, this time I’m not throwing you to the dogs.”
He swallowed the last of a cup of weak tea, ate one more soda cracker, and stood up, brushing the crumbs from his lap.
“I have much to tell you, Angelica.”
“Listen to me, Joseph, and don’t get yourself in a fit. All you need do is walk several blocks to the Regency Hotel, wait in the alley behind it, and I will send a car to pick you up immediately. You’ll be brought back here invisibly this time. Now all you have to tell me must wait. I can probably guess most of it.”
“I would not be surprised.”
“By the time you return, I’ll be properly prepared. I have some of your belongings, you know.”
“Calm, calm, and do as I say.” She brushed him away. “Leon will show you the door.”
“I can’t believe … you have … Angelica, you really … ?”
“Go, you baby, or I’ll have you thrown.”
Disbelief silenced him. He turned numbly away from her, remembered his manners, returned to give a formal farewell, and found that she had already gone away. Leon waited at his elbow, and Leon closed the door on him once he was outside. Joseph walked slowly, seeing nothing of his surroundings, surfacing from his thoughts occasionally to check his whereabouts. There had been some changes in the neighborhood, but not many; the houses were an amalgamation of colonial originals and modern townhouses. The greatest change in the estate community must have been its residents. There would be more developers waiting out the heat behind the drawn shades, and fewer of the old-money aristocrats and colonial hangers-on who had for reasons unknown chosen San Désirée as their home. It had always been possible to live like royalty here if your currency was printed elsewhere. But San Désirée meant nothing to him now, and he resented the intrusive musings that the city provoked. He wanted to know what Angelica had meant with her talk of his belongings. What could she have of his? What would have been worth saving, except for the attars?
How could she have acquired them? He tried to imagine her in the first hours of the coup, hurrying along their secret path to his house, risking everything she had to rescue the things that were most precious to him. What an amazing woman!
He stayed where she had sent him, skulking in an alley, until her silver limousine glided past and he could duck in.
The chauffeur made no comment on seeing him, and Joseph was thankful for the discretion. In minutes they had slipped into the garage adjoining Angelica’s house, and he was taken through the kitchen, then upstairs into the dark reaches of the manor, finally to a small bedroom where fresh clothes smelling of sachets were laid out on a luxurious bed. It was the bed that held his attention, more than the clothes. Six months since he had last felt a mattress beneath him. This thought was accompanied, inevitably, by the thought of Angelica. Another thing he had been without for half a year. Another thing? It was not things he missed, not possessions, but companionship.
There was a door on the far side of the room, slightly ajar, and beyond it the sound of rushing water. He went to the threshold and saw a bathtub, almost full. The water was cool to the touch; without delay he stripped and immersed himself.
Adrift, dreaming, he began to forget his perfumes, his plight, while the waters did their work. He felt himself dissolving.
A knock woke him. It was Leon with a bathrobe.
“Sir, Madame is ready for you. She asks me to inform you that there is some urgency.”
He dressed quickly. Leon was waiting for him in the hall, and he led Joseph to Angelica’s private salon.
“I hope you are ready for me, Joseph,” said Angelica. She sat in a high-backed chair; the window behind her faced the rear of his former home. He could almost see into his old room.
Sitting opposite her, he said, “I have no intention of wasting time, Angelica. I only came to tell you that I plan to leave Bamal as soon as possible, with or without your help. I think it would be difficult without it, but—”
She laughed merrily. “With my help it will be difficult; without it, impossible.” She covered her mouth lightly with several fingers, seeming apologetic. “I shouldn’t say that. You’ve surprised us many times, Joseph. Still, if you would accept my assistance—if, as you say, you came seeking it—I am prepared to offer what I can. This may not be much, but surely it is more than you have at the moment. You know I have friends outside Bamal.”
“It is the enemies within Bamal who worry me. How can I get on a plane without a passport?”
“Passports can be acquired. Plane tickets, and custom agents, can be bought. Of course, flights are unreliable; we can’t have you waiting in line two weeks, under the noses of the military. On the other hand, the only private jet in Bamal belongs to the President, and I can’t see you riding with him.”
“Buique,” he said. “I’d as soon ride with Dodo.”
Her eyes looked half-open, sleepy, as she said, “We’ll get you out of here somehow, never fear. But I’m concerned with where you will go after that. You say you have friends. Who can these be?”
From an inner pocket of the clothes she’d found him, he removed the soiled sheet of text that he had rescued from the bulldozer in the night. “Colleagues,” he said, extending it for her perusal. “The greater scientific community. Scientists are always defecting from one place or another where they can continue their research with liberty.”
She looked up from the sheet. “These are Americans.”
“Well?” He didn’t see the point; her expression was problematic. “Then I’ll go to America.”
She shook her head. “You’re out of touch, Joseph. America takes in no one these days; the new President Burdock’s policy is strict. Buique has been flattering the United States with every conceivable manner of fawning since his election, but without avail. You know he counted on American support because he instituted what at first glance is a democracy in Bamal, but none has been forthcoming.”
“Then where did Mome go? I thought they would have begged to add the old tyrant to their collection.”
“I doubt your reason, Joseph. There was never much to Mome except what you distilled. He couldn’t have fled Bamal with more than a few vials of charisma, and that would hardly have impressed them over any distance. There’s been no method of transmitting odors until quite recently.”
“What do you mean, until recently?”
She would not meet his eyes now. “You must promise not to get upset, Joseph.”
“Upset? With you?”
“Oh no, that’s secondary; I’m not afraid of you. But don’t you dare damage what I’m about to show you.”
He remembered his attars, was about to ask after them, but she got up and went to a cabinet, unlocked it with a tiny key, then opened the doors to reveal a radio. A radio? Were they to listen to music?
“I thought you said this was urgent,” he said.
She brought the radio over and set it on a tall round table at the side of her chair. He noticed that it was not like other radios; attached to it was a small glass container with a rubber stopper in one end. Pale yellow liquid sloshed in the little bottle.
“I’ll find the afternoon broadcast,” she said, twiddling the dial through a symphony of static until, out of the fuzz, a stuffy voice emerged. The station was loud and blaring, because so near. Bamal Free Radio filled the room with the President’s easily imitable voice; Joseph had heard children in the streets pinching their noses and mocking his accent.
“By beaudiful, beaudiful beoble. Thag you so buch for tudig id agaid to Babal Free Radio. I would like to thag each ad every ode of you for electig be your Bresidet. This job bead so buch to be—”
Joseph’s head jerked up from the monologue. He sniffed the air. What was that smell? His heart began to pound to a military beat, his blood sang an anthem in his ears. The Emperor was near.
Mome had come, he had come again to lead Bamal to freedom, to world dominance. Joseph cried out his loyalty, thrusting back the chair as he rose to his feet, immersed in the scent of roses.
“Emperor, where are you?” he cried. “I can’t see you, but I smell you. I know you are here. Here…”
And the moment passed, leaving him standing awkwardly at attention, saluting no one but Angelica. She smiled, shook her head, and he could read her disappointment easily.
“You really did believe in him, didn’t you, Joseph? How could you believe in anything, especially a scent that you devised?”
“But that wasn’t him!” he shouted, still caught in the splendor of the vision, the aroma of roses not yet completely gone. “That was Buique’s voice. What was I doing? I’ve gone mad, utterly mad.”
“Buique’s voice, yes, but Mome’s smell as you well know. It’s here.” She turned the radio until the vial of yellow liquid was exposed. “It’s driven into the air while he speaks, broadcast along with the sound.”
He advanced on the radio cautiously, as though approaching a venomous insect.
“Remember, you must not harm this radio. I promised to keep it safe and you know I keep my word.”
“Who?” he whispered, frightened. “Who made you promise this?”
“Joseph, who else could have built such a thing? Kmei Dodo.”
The name hung in his mind, conjoined with the picture of the evil radio and the last fading smell of empire.
“Oh, Angelica,” he said when he could. “How could you? He lends you his toys? And do you two play?” He had not known how quickly the bitterness could come to his voice, had never dreamed he could speak this way to her. “The secret path … do you use it to meet with him now? Do you signal with window shades, as we used to do?”
“I only wish you’d told me when you saw me in your study, Angelica. I only wish you had thrown me in the street. I don’t relish knowing these things. I hate being shown what he’s done to my life.”
“Your life?” she said, matching his anger. “This is my life, Joseph. Your life is no longer in Bamal. You will go where you have to, you will start again; perhaps—who knows—you’ll even join your old partner in madness. But I have never had a thing outside San Désirée. This is where I live, have always lived, and will remain until I die. I must be careful here, more careful than you dream, although I’ve tried to make you feel safe and at ease today. You are not very safe now, Joseph, oh no. I hope you have caught your breath because now you will need it. The peace you may have felt has been illusory. Your life could end at any moment, and bring mine down with it.”
She had risen from her chair; he could not speak, nor move.
“Do you think I wasn’t happy to see you? You’re wrong. I remember what you meant to me, perhaps better than you do. There were no obligations, if you will recall. There were no favors done, no bargains made, no debts. If you have come here to collect on some imagined debt then you had better go back to the barrens now, or try to board a plane at the airport. It makes no difference to me where you’re shot down. Do you think my servants don’t talk?”
He had turned away from the barrage of words. Again he felt weak, humiliated. All she said was true. She had once again shattered any dream of security he might be nurturing, to impress upon him as rudely and cruelly as was necessary the fact that as long as he remained in Bamal he could never be safe.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “You’re right, of course.”
“I know I’m right.”
“I don’t know what to say, Angelica.”
“Then say nothing. Or better, speak of something else. Tell me your plans.”
“They seem ridiculous, they would take too long. Last night I still believed I could stay here for the rest of my life, however long that might be. I suppose I could have, if I had buried my dreams, my identity, and become unknown even to myself; but my past was bulldozed, and suddenly I found myself wishing for freedom, a new beginning. By coming here I have accelerated the process. You are a catalyst, Angelica. I come and I go, but you remain unchanged.”
“Is that so?”
“I don’t know, I don’t. . . . You must have an idea how I can escape, a practical plan. I’ve been thinking like a madman. I imagined writing to my fellow scientists, asking for asylum. That’s a stupid plan, stupid.”
“Now, Joseph. Give me time to consider this.”
His eyes flickered to the radio; he was still unwilling to face her, even though her temper had changed. “A neat piece of work, but completely technical. He hasn’t unravelled the secrets of my attars, has he?”
“I don’t think he’s close to that. He uses only a few of the essences you left behind, and he’s running out of those. But he does have a large staff devoted to the analysis, and they are attempting to synthesize your products. Naturally he can’t use Mome’s stink of roses when Buique is speaking; that would be asking for rebellion. I merely showed you this experimental radio. He gave it to me that I might listen to music while flower scents percolate through the room. He’s developing a scent harmonizer, something like a pipe organ, capable of orchestrating complicated combinations of smells to match the moods of music—or that’s what he says. I know better. It will be the same thing all over again with Buique, except that he will be immune to his own perfume, unlike Mome. It may take Kmei time to isolate Buique in a bottle, but I don’t think it will take forever. You didn’t have sufficient warning to cover your tracks.”
“I don’t understand. Did he give you this attar of Mome?”
She laughed. “Oh no. He gave me fragrances, French perfumes. L’Eau de Mome is from my own collection—yours, really.”
“You have it then.” He clasped his hands as though trapping a prayer. “Angelica, forgive me for doubting you. You know I can be jealous—”
“And how you hate yourself afterward, Joseph. Don’t waste your strength. I have a box full of your attars, which I will bring out shortly. Then we will see about getting you out of Bamal. It may take a few days, and you must lie very low in this time.”
“I have a great deal of practice sleeping on the ground.”
“Not quite that low, my dear.” She rose, laughing, and kissed him on the cheek. “Now that you know about Kmei I can be straightforward with you. He comes over each evening, and he is far less discreet in his attentions than you ever were, as he does not consider himself in competition with Buique as you were with Mome. I want you out of the way when he is here.” She wagged her finger, as if a reprimand were necessary. “Leon will keep an eye on you, and if you wish to sleep until I am free again, he will bring you to me later.”
Joseph bowed his head, not only to Angelica but to the weight of circumstance, irresistible circumstance.
Thinking of Dodo would get him nowhere. Rest, on the other hand, would give him a fresh perspective. He rose, promising, “I’ll be quiet.”
“Wait a moment. You’re forgetting.”
He checked his chair but it was empty, and there was nothing he could have dropped. Angelica went to the cabinet. This time she extracted a small wooden chest whose contents rattled as she brought it to him. Her smile was gentle, expectant.
“I’m pleased to be able to give this to you,” she said.
He took the box with something like reverence and kissed her, not deeply as he would have liked, but with love and respect and a little regret. He thought he caught sight of old passions in her eyes, but she did not let them get away from her. She blinked and they were gone.
“Sleep if you can,” she said with a smile. “There’s a narcotic attar in there which I used myself once, after the coup, when I could not let go of my fears but needed desperately to sleep.”
“I could be up all night with this,” he said.
“You know your mind best. I’ll see you soon, my friend.”
“Friend,” he echoed.
She looked toward the door. “Ah, Leon, please—”
“This way, Dr. Joseph. I’ve laid out your supper.”