Lost in Aix
By Rolynn Anderson
For the first time in her life, Aline Kerig had no Plan B.
She’d laid all her possessions on her Cezanne Hotel’s king bed, re-checking inside every pocket and crevice of her backpack and suitcase until her fingertips felt raw. I am not a woman who loses things.
So where was her external drive?
She glared at the cowboy hat for something to blame. Purchased at a store in the Paris train station, on a whim, for whimsy, for a change, for solace. There I go: spending fifty dollars to buy a look that isn’t me, and suddenly I’m a loser of things.
A train station vision of a slim man with a wide smile and warm brown eyes came to her mind. The guy wore a knit sweater with a reindeer on it, for God’s sake. “And he stared at me. Damn Frenchman rattled me. It’s his fault I lost the drive.” She grumbled as she lifted clothing and shook each piece, desperate for her data drive to drop to the bed.
She paced the room, riled by the real reason she’d misplaced her Apple hard drive. “They picked Max over me, desperate to bring a son-in-law into the family.” The impact of her parents’ attitude hit her moments before her train reached Aix, the abrupt arrival interrupting a good cry. Even at age thirty-one and an ad agency executive, the pain felt like abandonment. So she came to France on Christmas Day, two days early for her meeting with a chocolate company. She twisted a fist in her palm. “Just watch. Max will show up at my parents’ house on Christmas Day, and they’ll take his side against me for calling off our engagement party.” While Aline had despaired over Max’s increasing possessiveness, her parents labeled his actions as loving and protective. She held her hand to her heart at the thought: “I was losing myself so gradually I almost didn’t realize it.”
She stared at name of the hotel, embroidered on pillows. Cezanne called his daughter Aline, a name appealing to Aline’s art-loving parents. This was to be the trip of her dreams, connected with a job, but more importantly, with the famous Cezanne…until her parents sided with Max; until she’d lost her external drive.
To calm herself, Aline focused on the thick folder now sitting on her desk. In it was the advertising campaign she’d designed for Bouchamour, a big company in Aix poised to delight Americans with their chocolate. The pride she felt at the creative strategy she and her staff had designed for Bouchamour, temporarily pushed disappointment out of her mind.
And then she remembered the entire campaign lived on her external hard drive along with every important password she used. “Oh, God,” she howled. “If the wrong person gets my passwords and the campaign, I’m finished.” The buzz in her head, half anxiety and half jet lag, sapped her of energy. “What do I do, first?”
The hotel receptionist stared at Aline with big, horrified eyes and a headshake when she told him of her mistake. Phoning the train company’s lost and found department proved fruitless, but at least the receptionist was able to provide Aline with the train’s email address to report lost items. Hours later, tired, embarrassed and frightened, she finished typing her information on the train company website and sent the registration of her loss out into cyberspace. The receptionist’s next piece of advice: “Alter your passwords, rapidement. Many French people use the Apple.”
She’d charged back to her room to change passwords, dozens of them. While she waited for e-mail confirmations, she fumed over what she might lose if the external drive got into the wrong hands. Her saved personal e-mails, numbering in the thousands, could easily be used against her. She kept a diary, unfit for anyone’s eyes but her own. Aline’s inner-agency memo’s were filed under topics easy for an industry hacker to steal. All her candid comments were now available to the curious, the blackmailer, and the ad agency rip-off artist. If some of the information in her diary or her e-mails got out, her reputation could be ruined. She’d lose her job and any chance for a recommendation to a new one.
She pulled out her Apple computer, her iPhone, and iPad, setting up entry passwords for all three. Next she assigned a separate password to her diary. When she finished the work, she sat back on her bed, a stack of pillows holding her upright. “Now what?”
Her world had imploded: A called-off wedding, traitorous parents and a lonely holiday in Aix. Now a missing external drive planted land mines in her future. Merry Christmas to me.
Aline squinted at the black hat on the white bedspread coping an attitude, underlining the need for a newer version of herself. “It’s seven o’clock. Nothing more we can do alone in this hotel room, hat. Let’s go sit where Cezanne drowned his sorrows. I’ve got the same name as his daughter and we’re staying in his hotel, so we might as well drink wine where he shot the shit with Emile Zola. I’ve ditched a fiancé and a pair of parents; it’s you and me, hat, from now on.”
At seven p.m. on Christmas Day, Aline slipped on black jeans and ankle high boots, a bright yellow sweater with a cowl neck, and a black leather jacket. She accompanied her hat to Les Deux Garçons, Cézanne’s old haunt on the Cours Mirabeau, a multi-block delight of stores, businesses and a couple dozen restaurants set up for people-watching. Aline picked a table with a great view under a heater. When the waiter cast an appreciative look at her hat, she decided to leave it in place. She was sitting in the patio, after all, so perhaps keeping the hat on was proper. Just you and me, hat.
“Une petite pichet de vin blanc, un croque-monsieur, et une salade mixte, s'il vous plaît,” she said, articulating the words she’d memorized before she left her hotel room. When the waiter smiled at her request for white wine, a ham sandwich and a salad, she allowed herself a moment of pleasure. Then, despite the overhead warmth, a shiver of fear snaked through her: an evil person could be stealing her data and ruining her life at this very moment.
Tune in tomorrow for Part 3 of 'Lost in Aix.' Make a comment on all three sections and you're in the mix for a free e-book giveaway of FAINT! Celebrate with me my launch of FAINT, 3rd in the Funeral Planner Suspense Series. This cover is perfect for December, don't you think?
The Funeral Planner Suspense Series - Book 3
By Award-winning Author, Rolynn Anderson
Their dead clients refuse to rest in peace.
How did small-town boutique funeral planning morph into crime-solving? Ask freelance embalmer Trudy Solomon, or Pete McDonald, a blind, forensic investigator. They’re unearthing mysteries of the deceased for their pregnant boss, Jan Keller, while her journalist husband, Roman, is benched by a ten million dollar defamation suit.
A dead client goes missing, and investigating his disappearance forces Trudy and Pete to confront their fiercely independent styles. When danger stalks them, will they blend brains, brawn and belief in one another to solve crimes and save themselves?