November 5th, 1974. 4:30 AM       

 

After I became a bead salesman, life stopped throwing me unwanted surprises, and I liked that.  Liked it a lot.  I did little else than listen to people tell me what they wanted and then supply it for them.  Oftentimes I would make a recommendation to complement their choices – some silver would go nice with that turquoise, ma’am – and my advice was either taken or not.  Either way, there were no curve balls, and I got to travel.

            Lately, however – as I’m sure you’re well aware if you’ve been reading this journal from the beginning – things have been happening that are for the most part, out of my control.  I absolutely despise these situations,, and I can think of only one thing worse:  being in a predicament I have no say over when I know well and good it’s my own damn fault.  This, unfortunately, is the kind of situation I was currently in.

            I have no idea how it happened, really, for soon after Celia, Justin Rogers, Sarah’s father and I darted out of the hotel room I found myself being followed by the first two while driving the third as a passenger.  My head was swimming so I couldn’t remember it being decided that this was a good idea, because certainly if I was clear-headed, I would have vetoed it. 

I wanted to get away from this trio, not lead them to where I was going – much less chauffeur the one whom I was the most uncomfortable with.  I kept telling myself I’d figure out a way to lose Celia and Justin and once I had, it would be easy to just stop the car and throw out Mr. Sangrayall.

            “Gilbert, please.  Call me Gilbert,” he said in an accent that sounded so unsmug for a British academic.  I would have loved for it to be smug, trite even, because it would have given me more reason to hate him. But no, he had to be one of the few smart people from England who didn’t sound haughty.

            “Gilbert,” I said.  “Man, what a stupid name.”  During the brief instant this put-down had flashed through my mind it sounded smart and biting, something that would show him he wasn’t dealing with a run-of-the mill foe.  However, when I said it, I realized I sounded like an idiot.  He didn’t call me on that fact, and it made me hate him even more.

            “You think it’s stupid, do you?”  He asked.  “I rather fancy it myself.  It’s not even my real name – my real name’s William.  Can’t abide that name, William.  Oh, I hate it so.  That’s why I tell people to call me Gilbert.  I think it sounds adventurous, don’t you?” 

            “No,” I answered.  “In fact, it makes you sound like a nerd.”

            “Does it now?”  Well, considering I am something of a nerd, I guess it’s even more appropriate.”  Then he changed the subject:  “We’ve got quite the drive ahead of us, don’t we?”

            “We still have a while.  If you want to crawl in the back and get some shut-eye…”

            “Thanks, but I’ll stay awake if you don’t mind.”  He grinned a grin that seemed pleasant, yet I sensed (or imagined,) a threat beneath it.  “But I am a bit drowsy at that.  Maybe a good conversation will keep me awake.  What do you say?”

            I said nothing.

            “I guess the topic should be fairly obvious considering we only have two things in common, and I don’t really feel like talking about my daughter.”

            And for the next half hour or so, Gilbert Sangrayall spoke of beads.  I was absolutely shocked by the man’s knowledge.  I would never have guessed there was that much to say on the subject, and yet I could tell he was merely scratching the surface.  It would take years to hear all he had to say.

            He spoke of beads and history and how they were intertwined.  I was familiar with the names and situations of many of those he spoke about, while some I had heard of, but had no idea of their personal stories or significance.  Then there were those I had never heard o, and was awed by the impact they had on our planet’s memoirs.

            He talked about sapphires, rubies, gold and silver, and of both those who cherished them and to whom they meant nothing.   He went on about wars and how precious and semi-precious stones thought to be good luck charms gave those in charge the extra courage needed to head into battles that forged the future.   He reiterated tales of new trade routes, and how in man’s early exploration of the world a handful of amethyst beads had more than once made the difference between a merchant being allowed to help cultures meld and advance symbiotically instead of becoming just one more dead traveler with commercial interests.

            And he told all of this quite well, using humor in his storytelling, and giving voices to different characters.  I certainly didn’t want him in my car, much less in my life at that moment, but I did feel more than a bit envious of those who had been fortunate enough to have been his students.

My mind began to drift, and I wondered if I had ever unknowingly been a part – albeit a small one – of what would be considered an important historical event some time in the future.  Had I sold a charm, a crystal or a component that became part of a piece of jewelry that would be so important to someone that it would influence a city, country, or the entire planet?  If not, I had certainly played a part in affecting individual lives; necklaces that meant something special to the wearer – like gifts from a grandmother that are now all someone has to remember her by.  Or perhaps earrings that keep a special occasion always  fresh in the mind of someone who has nothing but happy memories.

Between Gilbert’s stories and my inflating my own self importance, I had let my mind glide away from what it needed to concentrate on, which, unfortunately, was a plan to get myself out of a situation I didn’t understand, and stop things future unknown things from happening.  I’m not sure if this distraction was Gilbert’s intention, but I decided not to give him the benefit of the doubt and assumed it was.

I didn’t want to start liking this guy.

“Okay, Gilbert.  If you don’t mind, I need to think and keep my mind on the road.  So if we can hold the conversation to a minimum….”

            “Oh, sure, of course,” he said in a way that sounded genuinely considerate.  I couldn’t wait for him to say he needed a rest stop so I could purposely not stop.  And then he was quiet and just stared ahead at the blurry yellow and white lines as they approached slowly, gaining speed until they quickly dashed by one side of the car of the other.

            I figured the people who were with Sarah – who had taken Sarah -- somehow knew Moondagger could “sense” the other beads, so were after him.  I also assumed they would be at Moondagger’s store when it opened.  But if they were in a hurry, they may not wait.  And if they didn’t know where Saul lived – or was temporarily staying during the opening of his shop – they might try getting to Sage to help them find him.  And whether or not she wanted to help, it wouldn’t matter.

            I had already made a huge blunder by letting my guard down once, and look where it had gotten Sarah.  I wasn’t about to put Sage in danger.  So, my plan was to drive as fast as I could – if I got pulled over by a cop, all the better – and try to get to Sage, find out where Saul was, and make the hour-plus drive to intercept him before whoever else was in this game could get to him.  It probably wasn’t the best plan, but I didn’t have time to think, and I was still suffering from a nasty blow to the back of my head.

If anybody reads this one day, they might wonder why I didn’t just pick up a phone and call Sage.  There’s a reason for that, believe me.  About 10 minutes into our drive I noticed a phone booth at a gas station several yards down the road, and decided to pull over and call her no matter what the risk.  But as I reached into my breast pocket, I realized my address book was gone.

            “We already looked for your phone book, Mr. Louviere,” Gilbert had said.  “Sarah, or whoever she’s with, had thought of that, too.  Unfortunately they thought of it first.  It’s gone.”  So phoning her was out of the question. 

I had also briefly toyed with the idea of heading off in the opposite direction from the get-go, because another lady who happened to be a friend of mine was also at risk:  Annie Slocumb, a simple waitress at Jackey-Boy’s Diner who didn’t even know the mess she was in.  After all, if “they” already had Saul, they could be on their way to her right now.

We drove in silence for quite a while, andI didn’t come up with anything I thought might help me.

 

November 5th, 1974. 5:40 AM

 

“So where’s the other bead?”  Gilbert asked in a rather off-the-cuff manner considering I’m sure the information was very important to him.  I played dumb.

            “What other bead?”

            “Oh, come on, Mr. Louviere, the other bead.  You know, we’ve got three, you had three.  It’s been a while since I’ve taken a mathematics course, but I believe that’s only six.  And as we both know, there are seven total.”

            “I have no idea,” I lied.

            Gilbert harrumphed.  “I highly doubt that.  As a matter of fact I know you’re lying.  You had the ugly brownish-gray one, if I’m not mistaken.”  He then paused for dramatic effect that was surprisingly effective.  “And I’m not mistaken.”

            Sarah’s father stared at me across the front seat, his nonchalant attitude having completely evaporated. 

            “I beg to differ,” is all I said, realizing the more I spoke, the more trouble I might get myself into.

            “Seven salesman, each with a leather case containing one of the beads in a different part of the country with only a few annual exceptions.  Your great aunt was brilliant, really, it was the best way to keep the beads separated yet still looked after, if you get my meaning.”

            “What does my aunt have to do with this?” I asked.  It seemed like every female who ever had any impact on my life was somehow being drawn into this mad scavenger hunt for immortality.

            “Everything, really.”  Gilbert’s demeanor was settling down; he once again sounded polite and non-threatening.  And it made me feel worse.

            “I’m not sure I follow,” was my short response.

            “Oh, come now, Samuel, are you telling me you haven’t even put that much together yet?  It’s quite obvious if you’d taken the time to actually think about it.”  Gilbert then stared out the window, his eyes slightly glazed as they tend to become when one reminisces.   “She was a remarkable woman, she was.  A remarkable person, really… let’s not narrow down her importance just because of her sex.  Yes, truly if it weren’t for her travels, intelligence, ingenuity and curiosity, my collection wouldn’t be a fraction of what it is…and therefore, neither would my knowledge.”

            “You knew her?”  I was shocked.  Just how intertwined could everything become?

            “No, I never had the pleasure of meeting her, but I certainly knew of her.  As I said before, I’m not one to travel the world and put myself in mortal danger for a handful of pearls, but your aunt was.  And many of the people I deal with have had the opportunity to acquire some of what she’d found.  Remarkable, really, quite remarkable.”  Gilbert’s mind wandered, as if he was genuinely in awed by my great aunt.  But he immediately snapped out of it.  “She believed in the legend of Thibaut’s Beads.  Not just in their existence, but in their power as well.  She knew that even if spread across the globe, the beads would attract each other, so she figured it wouldn’t be hard to find something that wanted to be found.  And she was right.  But she didn’t want their power.  In fact she wanted no one to have their power.  So she came up with a way to keep them ‘together yet separate’.”

            “And how do you know all of this?”

            “About a year after you met Sarah in Bali I was offered a strange beaded belt, which according to its own legend, had been owned by Kublai.  The man who sold it to me also had some volumes of your aunt’s journals,” Gilbert said.  “The man didn’t know it, but those journals were worth many times the value of the belt.  So, though I paid too much for it, all in all it was a bargain.  On of her diaries was very detailed about her quest for Thibaut’s Beads, her finding of them, and their dispersal, if you will.  Unbelievable stories, some of the most fascinating I’ve ever read.”   He turned and put a hand on my shoulder, his smile seemingly genuine.  “One day, Mr. Louviere, when all this is over, I’ll give them back to her heir.  I’m sure she’d have wanted you to read them.”

            When this is all over, I thought, I want nothing to do with you, Thibaut’s Beads, or any more adventures.  I just want to be with Sarah, and lead an abnormally dull life.  Thinking of Sarah again made me realize that time was running out, and I needed some sort of plan.  

            I checked my rearview mirror and the car tagging me was close enough that I could see Celia alert as ever behind the wheel and Justin Rogers in the passenger seat.  I had been hoping the long drive would lull them into a state where I might be able to take them by surprise and quickly pull off the highway, make a few turns and lose them.  But their diligence was apparently going to keep that from being a possibility.  Besides, making quick turns on unfamiliar roads ran the possibility of getting lost myself, and I didn’t have any time to spare while trying to figure out where I was. 

            “What about your three beads?”  I asked Gilbert.  I decided since he was in a talking mood, I might as well try to get information out of him for a change.  “Are they safe?”

            “They’re safe, yes, quite safe,” he said.

            “ ‘Safe’ as in hidden, or ‘safe’ as in locked up tight?”  I didn’t even realize until I asked that this was a very important question.

            “Safe is safe,” he said.

            “Maybe not,” I told him.  Moondagger had sensed the beads were close during the ceremony the night before.  That’s when Celia, Justin and Gilbert were tailing us. But they didn’t have their beads at the hotel, which means they must have stashed them during our visit with Moondagger – they couldn’t have followed me and gotten rid of them.

            Gilbert didn’t need to tell me; the beads were hidden, not locked up.  Which meant that the people who had Sarah, if they got to Moondagger before I did, could easily get the other three beads.  Then why would they need Sarah?  They wouldn’t.

            No matter what Gilbert said, I had no doubt Sarah had not betrayed me and that she was in mortal danger.  I knew my saving her was dependent upon us getting to Moondagger, and, therefore, Sage first. 

I pressed my foot on the gas pedal until it lay flat against the floor of my car.  The engine roared, and I accelerated quickly.  A look to the mirror and I saw a moment of surprise on Celia’s face – but it didn’t take long until her expression once again showed determination, and her car’s powerful engine easily brought its front bumper within inches of my car’s trunk.

Then there was a sound, a loud bang, and I lost control of the car.  I had only a moment to realize what happened – that one of my tires had blown out – before the Lincoln Continental behind me slammed into our side.  The screeching of tires, the crunching of metal; it only lasted a matter of seconds, but it felt like years.  Years of me wondering just how bashed and bloody I was going to be when it finally stopped. 

Or if I would be alive to feel those injuries. 

 

 

 

 

 ..................to be continued

 

© 2006 Brightlings Beads and M. Robert Todd