“Yes, and he’s teaching me how to play Robo Patrol, so it’s a fair exchange.”
“Hardly.” He studied the page for a moment. “You made up these samples yourself?”
“So you don’t just break ciphers, you write them as well?”
“Only simple ones, like what I’m working with here. Why?”
“Have you ever done any proper encryption,” he asked, “with computers?”
“A very long time ago, just as a hobby. Why?”
Luc shrugged. “No reason.” And then he said, “Well, that’s not true. There’s a reason. You remember I mentioned my brother?”
“Fabien, who lives in California and works for the same company you do only his job is more senior.”
“So you remember.” He sounded amused. “Well, his job is more senior than mine because he’s actually in charge of the development of all of Morland’s tactical and sonar systems—a lot of high-level defense contracts—and he just called me this morning to say he was coming to Paris next week to hold interviews for his department here. I don’t know all the positions he’s filling, but some have to do with creating encryption solutions and cyber security for different clients, and I thought…”
“That’s very specialized work. I don’t have the experience.”
“Fabien trains people all the time. Well, not in person, but he makes arrangements to have them trained. I think he cares more about someone’s aptitude, how their mind works, than their years of experience. And your mind works well at this.” He set the paper down again. “You said you wanted to find a job that let you work on your own, and I know for a fact some of his people do that. From home, even. I can’t guarantee that he’d hire you, but I’m pretty sure I could get you an interview.”
I angled my head in the warm cradle of his strong shoulder to gain a clear view of his face. He looked innocent. I wasn’t fooled. I said, “You’re taking care of me.”
“Actually, I’m being selfish. Finding a job for you here means you’ll stay close to me. But it’s your choice. If you’d rather I not interfere, that’s fine too.”
As I studied his face I remembered the words that MacPherson had spoken to Mary, affecting her strongly enough she had written them down: Not so easy to leave after all. And they struck a strong chord with me, too. Luc Sabran wasn’t easy to leave.
So a job in France, close to him, working alone on encryption and cyber security, sounded fantastic.
Except, “I’m not all that impressive in interviews.”
“Fabien never does anything formal, it isn’t his style. We could go into Paris and meet him for lunch if you like, if you’d find it more comfortable.”
“At Les Éditeurs?”
“Could we take the Ducati?”
He smiled. “Of course.”
“Then I’d like that,” I said. “But I’m paying. I still owe you lunch.”
I expected an “OK.” Instead, he leaned lower and kissed me. I didn’t complain.
It seemed almost too quiet a few minutes later when he left me sitting alone at my desk with the diary. It was new for me, but I’d discovered I didn’t mind having Diablo and Noah and Luc hanging round while I worked.
And I no longer minded transcribing the fairy tales Mary kept writing. In fact, I’d begun to enjoy them.
I worked all the rest of that day on the one she’d told Thomson and Mr. MacPherson and Madame Roy several days after the wolf had been shot, and this time I could see, as Denise had explained, how the fairy tale fit with the rest of her narrative:
There once was a good and wise king who ruled over a prosperous land, with a son—the crown prince—and two daughters. The crown prince and his younger sister had good hearts and wise heads as well, but the elder daughter was envious and cruel, and thought it most unfair her brother’s birth had robbed her of her chance to rule the kingdom. Calling on a fairy who was practiced in the darker ways of magic, she went about clearing her path to the throne. First she had her brother kidnapped in the night and taken far away into a distant land, from which there would be no returning. Then she had her sister, who was gifted with a rare and lovely voice, changed to a little bird and locked within a golden cage that hung beside the window. And with none to bar her way, the elder sister had her father turned into a small defenseless hare and set him to be chased at that day’s hunt. But her father was clever and swift. He outwitted the hounds and the hunters and ran at great speed to a far distant forest of thorns, where he knew he’d be safe. Incensed by this, the elder sister—who had now been crowned the queen—instructed her dark fairy to pursue the hare, her father, to the forest and ensure that he was killed.
This vengeful order was by good luck overheard by the young princess, trapped now as a bird within a hanging cage, and using all her own brave ingenuity she freed herself and flew off through the open window in the same direction the dark fairy had just taken, hoping she might find her father first and somehow warn him. She found the forest made of thorns, and found her father also, in great peril—unaware that to his one side he was being stalked and threatened by a wolf, and to the other stood a huntsman with his long gun to his shoulder.
The princess sang a warning to him, but he could do no more than lie still, for time in this strange forest passed more quickly and the hare-king had already grown too old to run with all the speed he’d once possessed. The princess, to protect him, swooped down hastily and perched atop his back, and from this vantage point she saw now that the huntsman was none other than her brother the crown prince, changed as well from all his wanderings so far from friends and home, his heart grown hard and cold and merciless.