Forbid Them Not: The European Car Chase and the Million Secrets Club

Forbid Them Not: The European Car Chase and the Million Secrets Club October 5, 2018

Forbid Them Not, pp. 255-269

This chapter opens with the strangest segment of the entire book. We’re back with Jody, and Jody is in Switzerland. But this section is like something out of a James Bond movie. And I’m genuinely not exaggerating.

Jody has decided to take the day off.

It was Saturday, and she had no official receptions until evening. She had given her driver, her guard, and her role as ambassador the day off. Today she was just going to be Jody and her sunglasses and her Mercedes convertible.

She decides to go visit some Roman ruins in Avenches.

Yep, I think I’d go there too. In fact, I think we need to see that again, this time from another angle.

Look! The modern roads are literally shaped by that old amphitheater! How cool is that?!

Avenches is about 120 km, or 75 miles, from Geneva. Google suggests that the drive should be an hour and a half, but Jody decides to take the back roads—a more scenic route. Her staff marks some roads that will give her good views, while still being drivable. The wind whips her “shoulder-length hair” as she drives—she must have gotten a hair cut, because when Farris first introduced her he described her hair as “long.”

Jody has her hair tied back in a scarf so that she can see as she drives, and that leads her to muse about men, because if she were in the passenger seat she could let her hair loose entirely. The problem, it seems, is that the only young attractive guys in Geneva are the help. Her peers—the other diplomats—are all old, balding men.

No really, look at how Farris says this:

Oh, there were plenty of men who were handsome in their own way, but they were mostly the hired help. The diplomats that were in her wider circle of friends were mostly paunchy, balding men whose intentions for her were usually suspect.

Color me skeptical. Why is she there, if everyone else is thirty years older than her? This feels like overkill, but for Farris, it serves a purpose. This way he can explain why Cooper is sticking in her mind. As she drives along, feeling lonely, she thinks of that carriage ride with him in New York City. Cooper, somehow, is the only handsome, available man Jody has ever met. Or something like that. 

Anyway, as she drives she notices something. It’s a white cargo van, just off the road. Its driver is standing outside the vehicle, talking on a cell phone—until Jody comes into view. As soon as she passes, he hops into his van and floors the accelerator, following her. Jody starts to panic.

Probably a coincidence, she wanted to believe. But diplomatic training had encouraged her to be alert to such behavior because of terrorism and kidnappings.

I’m curious how typical it is for an ambassador to travel the backgrounds like this without a bodyguard. Jody does have one, she just dismissed him for a day. Or is the danger to ambassadors exaggerated, more a subject of superhero movies than reality? Either way, Jody is now worried.

A bit further on, Jody passes a small village. A man in a business suit—the only one so dressed—was standing near the road looking under the hood of “a gleaming black Mercedes that seemed to have mechanical troubles.”

Her own Mercedes appeared to possess some kind of recuperative power for its sister vehicle, for as soon as she passed by, the hood was quickly closed and the stalled car’s engine started at once.

Now Jody is really spooked. She decides to skip Avenches and instead go to Murten, a slightly larger town close to Avenches, for lunch. More people seems safer.

She parks and eats at a restaurant. Farris’ travelogs are interesting as always, by the way—they’re written such that you almost feel that you could use them as a guidebook.

She turned left at the cooperative grocery store up the hill, inside the walls of the town. Normally, the center street was off limits to those from outside the town, but her diplomatic license plants would result in a waiver of all such formalities.

She parked in front of the store with a large green cross, the European symbol of an apothecary. But it was the restaurant just to the left to which she headed. A public place seemed safest for the moment.

It reads like a scavenger hunt.

In fact. Let me check something google maps … is there a way you could arrive at Murten’s outskirts, turn left at a cooperative grocery store, and then go up a hill and into the walled down … and … OH MY GOD.

Cool cool cool.

I bet there’s not a restaurant to the left of an apothecary with a green cross, located on the main road on the center street within the walled city and … OH MY GOD THERE IS.

But I digress. And I’ll let my readers see if they can trace Jody’s next steps. Here is how Farris describes them:

She asked her waitress in French if there were a way to walk along the top of the wall without going back out into the center street. The waitress brought her busboy, who was willing to take her through the kitchen, down an alley, and up a hidden set of stairs. …

She walked north toward the gate opposite from where she had entered. A large, medieval clock tower guarded that entrance to the town. …

The small lake lay off to her left. Fields with cattle and a few sheep nodded the there or four kilometers between the city wall and the water’s edge. To her right there was a clear view of the center street and the storefronts along the side opposite her restaurant. …

She walked slowly toward the clock tower. Every car, every store, and every person got her careful review. There were no footsteps on the wooden wall save her own.

As she approached the clic tower, the wall curved sharply to the right, affording her for the first time a view of the open highway to the north of town. She looked carefully up the road, and even though she tried to convince herself that she was mistaken, the big Mercedes and the white van were parked on opposite sides of the highway facing north and south respectively. Their drivers were about three feet apart standing in front of the van, both talking on their cell phones.

Here, I think, Farris is simply misremembering. Or maybe he miswrote. According to google maps, the “big highway” is south of town, not north of town. Regardless, I’m left somewhat confused. Why would the cars, if they are indeed following Jody, be guarding the big highway, when she came on back roads? That seems somewhat inept.

Satisfied of the other cars’ location, Jody heads back to her own car to begin her trip home.

She hit the accelerator hard as soon as she reached the main highway heading south just past the grocery. No sign of either the van or the Mercedes.

She decided that the freeway might be a wiser choice for her return. Five minutes off a feeder road she merged into the three blains headed for Geneva.

The “main highway” must mean the back road she came in on, which is indeed reached by “heading south just past the grocery.” The “freeway” must be the “big highway” where she saw the cars that were tailing her. Presumably she enters that road already past where the cars are waiting for her—this would be in keeping with her descriptions and the map, and for her to enter where those cars were—knowing they were there—would be bizarre.

Why did the men tailing Jody wait on the highway, which she did not take, rather than by the road she came in on? Why didn’t Farris’ description of Jody’s decision to take the highway on the way back include some explanation of her decision to take the very road that was being watched? Why didn’t he at least assure readers that she was entering that highway out of those cars’ view, and not walking directly into a troops he knew was there?

At this point I find myself inclined to think that Jody only imagined that those cars were tailing her—either they were tailing someone else, or they’re the most inept tails ever. But when she gets back to her office, this happens:

A note was strategically placed in the center of her otherwise empty desk. “Hope you enjoyed your ride. Murten is beautiful this time of year.” She had told her staff she was going to Avenches. How would anyone know about Murten?

That’s definitely suspicious. Very suspicious.

Jody found the hand righting oddly familiar. Following up on a hunch, she pulled out a note Erzabet Kadar had written, welcoming her to Geneva.

The handwriting matched perfectly.

What!?

So, to recap. Erzabet Kadar didn’t even know that Jody was going to Avenches. Those men, then, were hers. They told Erzabet where Jody went, and Erzabet wrote Jody a note before she returned, to creep her the freak out.

What’s Erzabet’s game here? At this point, Jody has been nothing but loyal to the goals of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. She did question whether the extreme case was the one to start with, and she was standoffish about the idea of seducing Cooper—but in each case, when overruled, she dutifully followed the plan.

It feels like Farris watched a bunch of James Bond movies and read a bunch of novels about the Illuminati and then concluded that any story involving a U.N. treaty had to involve Eastern Europeans, car chases, and cryptic threats.

All of this might be overlooked if the story he’s telling actually held together. But it doesn’t.

Scene change!

Back to the U.S., and back to our hearty band of heroes. It seems Judge Holman signed an order “making the stay against the social workers permanent,” so Rick and Deanna are having everyone involved in the case—including Cooper’s secretary, Nancy, and her nine-year-old granddaughter—over for a cookout in celebration. Fun!

We start with a heavy dose of sexism.

In celebration, Rick wanted to cook dinner for everyone. That is what he told people, but his definition of “cooking dinner” was barbecuing the hamburgers. Deanna fixed the potato salad, the fruit salad, sliced and sweetened fresh strawberries to go with the ice cream, and prepared the lettuce, onions, and other condiments. She even took the raw hamburger meat and shaped it into patties so her husband could “cook dinner for everyone.” But she was glad to be home, and she didn’t mind in the least.

Cool. 

When Cooper arrives Laura isn’t out there. He doesn’t feel like he can ask about her, so he takes Rick outside to show off his car, so that he’ll be near the driveway and will be able to see when Laura arrives.

Because apparently it’s still middle school.

It was a sunny day, and he wanted to make sure that his friend saw how the color looked under such conditions.

Or so he told himself.

Just as Rick was dutifully looking under the hood—yup, the engine was still there—they heard the sound of a car slowing on the gravel road in front of the Thomas home and turning into the driveway. It was Terry Pipkin’s burgundy Grand Am, and there were two people inside.

Despite Terry’s storming out the other day, he and Laura are still together. Awkwardly so.

This section does give us the sentence that feels most real to me, out of this entire book:

As they were finishing, Emily and Kristen called Jeanne and Nancy outside to watch a trick they had learned to do on the trampoline.

So. Real.

This is as close as we get to a universal of childhood—“Mom! Dad! Let me show you this thing I just figured out how to do!” In contrast to that disastrous Layton scene, this simple sentence makes me believe Farris is a father.

When Jeanne and Nancy go out side, Deanna pounces on Laura and asks her what’s going on. Laura and Terry, it seems, are acting odd. Deanna correctly surmises that the “sore spot” is Cooper. Detective Deanna is on the case!

Unfortunately, Deanna’s sleuthing is interrupted by a phone call—a New York Times reporter trying to get ahold of Cooper and wondering whether Rick and Deanna have his home number. As luck would have it, Rick and Deanna have the man himself in their backyard! Deanna calls Cooper in to take the phone.

“I’m on deadline for a story for tomorrow’s paper. I want to ask you a couple of questions about your UN case if I may.”

“Sure, shoot,” Cooper replied.

“The area of inquiry concerns how you are being paid for the case.”

Cooper suddenly froze. “Yes?” he responded cautiously.

“Well, to get to the point, are your fees being paid by Randall Wasson, the associate publisher of the Washington Star?

Uh oh.

“Now where would you hear something like that, Mr. Gilmore? Besides, my clients haven’t authorized me to talk about their financial obligations.”

You could have started with your second statement, Cooper.

Cooper refuses to say anything more, but he knows the jig is up. Randall, after all, told Cooper that if anyone started poking around and connecting him with the lawsuit, his funding of the case would dry up immediately.

“I can’t imagine how he found that out,” Cooper remarked.

“Well, I didn’t tell him,” Deanna said quickly.

Maybe it’s just me, but that reaction makes Deanna look rather guilty. And she should feel guilty. She was the leak. Or rather, Terry was the leak—I’ll go ahead and spoil that for you now—and it was Deanna who told Terry. Cooper said tell no one and Deanna turned around and told both Laura and Terry. But no! Deanna says she couldn’t be the leak! Certainly not! Not her!

“There were only five people other than Mr. Wasson and me who knew this, and they are all here,” Cooper said slowly. He stopped and turned to Deanna. “Laura told me that you let this fact slip out in some conversation. I don’t mind that much your telling her. Just as long as neither of you told anyone else.”

“No, no, not a soul,” Deanna replied, with a clear conscience.

Laura knew she should remind Deanna that Terry was also in the room when the matter had been discussed initially, but she just couldn’t bear the thought of another fight erupting between the two of them. And she had warned Terry to not let it inadvertently slip out. “Cooper, I want you to know that I have not told a soul about this,” Laura promised him.

Laura! Just tell him!

Also, if Laura needed any further evidence that her relationship with Terry was unhealthy, the fact that she’s letting her fear of his reacting badly mess up this lawsuit ought to provide that evidence.

“I promise you that I didn’t tell anyone,” Laura said, as if she was begging him to believe her.

There is some serious lying by omission going on here.

Cooper calls everyone in, and when he notices that Terry’s there too he summarily dispatches him.

“Terry, I hate to be rude, but we need to have a very confidential meeting for just a couple minutes. Maybe you could help Nancy and Fred in the backyard with the kids.”

Terry said nothing but stared at Laura. He then walked out without a word, glaring at her.

And still Laura doesn’t tell Cooper. You would think that having Terry in the room would be, you know, important—after all, the question is whether anyone who knew about Randall Wasson let anything slip, and Terry knew. He needs to be asked. But Laura is keeping mum. And Deanna is either hiding it too, or has honestly forgotten.

Let’s run down the secrets people are keeping in this book.

1. Laura is hiding the fact that Deanna told Terry about Randall Wasson funding the case.

2. Cooper is hiding the fact that he kissed Jody and went on a romantic ride with her.

3. Deanna is hiding the fact that she spanked Layton, violating a court order in the process.

Fun.

Cooper asks whether any of those in the room told anyone about Randall Wasson. They all deny it.

A thought suddenly hit Cooper. “Did I ever send you an e-mail about Mr. Wasson?” he asked.

“No,” several voices said at once. “Why?”

“It’s just that e-mails are not truly confidential over the Internet,” he replied. “But if I didn’t send one, no problem.”

Really? Really Cooper??

He hasn’t told them that his email has been hacked. This matters—and it matters a lot—because it means they don’t know that they need to avoid sending him emails containing confidential information. This is a very serious problem. Cooper is jeopardizing the entire case, and I don’t for the life of me understand why.

It seems we need to add to our list:

4. Cooper is hiding the fact that his email has been hacked.

So, what is to be done? Cooper says all he can think is to go back to the Center for Constitutional Litigation, the libertarian group that had offered to take the case off of Cooper’s hands.

“The only thing I can think of is to go back to the Center for Constitutional Litigation and ask them to take the case. I know of no other way to raise the money at this stage of the case.”

Really? Really Cooper?

Okay, let’s add to our list again:

5. Cooper is hiding the fact that he could call Concerned Women for America for funding.

Cooper is a terrible lawyer.

In the car on the way home, Laura asks Terry if he told anyone about Randall Wasson. He forcefully denies telling anyone, but is very gratified when Laura tells him that Cooper will probably be off the case after this.

Do you know who Terry reminds me of? He reminds me of Gwen’s ex-husband in Farris’ last book. And that’s interesting. In each book, Farris has his main character fall for a woman who is ambiguously taken, and in each case, the other man who makes claims on this woman is petulant, dishonest, and insecure about his masculinity.

It’s basically the same storyline.

And here the chapter ends. Each character maintains his secret. At this point, Terry, too, has secrets. He’s double dealing and doing anything possible to get Laura away from Cooper—even if that means sabotaging the case.

Tune in next time, to see how many lies and half truths our intrepid band of heroes can add to this tangled web!

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