by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner
Exactly a month before the January 6, 2021 mob attack on the National Capitol, I wrote Chapter Eight of my E-book, The French Courtesan, Who Came In from the Cold, which included the impromptu tour of the National Capitol by a French actress-singer and I, when it was overwise closed to the public. Of course, I had no clue what was about to happen, when writing the chapter, but then, after the fact, was astounded how the world had changed since 1991. Were Vivi and I in another era or on another planet? That portion of the story is worth retelling with a few more details.
Vivi has told me that she also never forgot the day that we were in the United States Capitol and being awe-struck about the history that had occurred in our midst. She said that she literally cried, when the first videos from the riot began reaching the French TV networks. She has also added some details to the story that I had forgotten, when I wrote Chapter Eight. There is a really big surprise at the end of this story. Never give up on your dreams!
Because this book is from real life, the plot is extremely complex. What is perceived as reality changes from chapter to chapter. So . . . reading this excerpt is probably going to either make the reader intrigued or KORNFUZED. During the first few chapters, nothing is really as it seems.
In truth, I would not fully understand what had transpired until ten years later, when I in shock, I listened to my mother’s deathbed confession. I would try to bury the memory of those horrific years and that confession until early November 2020, when out of the blue, I received a brief letter from Vivi . . . asking me why I suddenly disappeared in April 1993 . . . breaking her heart. She had for decades assumed that I was dead, until she saw me on a History Channel TV program . . . very much alive.
The book begins on the evening of October 21, 1987. It is my first night in Virginia. My wife has been living and working there for seven weeks, while I pack and arrange for the movement of an entire dairy goat farm and cheese creamery from near Asheville, NC to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Suddenly, dozens of police cars, ambulances and fire trucks appear in front of our rental house. The perfectly preserved body of 17 year old Tim Conner has been found in the brush next to the house. He has been missing for two weeks!
We flash forward to December 1990. My restoration of a 236-year-old house has won a national historic preservation award . . . yet my wife’s response is to complain that she is unhappy, tired of being poor (we were NOT poor), wanted a divorce or wanted to sell the farm and move to somewhere else in the United States . . . depending on the time of the day. I was quite aware that she had been in two or more affairs, since before I even moved to Virginia.
Two friends at the Smithsonian Institute invited me to a spectacular Christmas Party for administrators and senior personnel at the Smithsonian and National Geographical Society. They wanted to purchase a hundred dollars of my now famous Shenandoah Chevre goat cheese for the party, but want me to arrive early . . . correctly assuming that the anti-wife will decline her invitation.
Once, I was at their house, Bob and Sara urged me to find another female companion and get a divorce ASAP. They knew somethings that they could not tell me for awhile. You see . . . I would later learn that Bob and Sara were Senior Researchers in the FBI. Their obscure basement offices in the Smithsonian were covers for mining the vast amount of information there and at the Library of Congress. The reason for their covert identity was that they were also used to impersonate harmless Southern university professors for the investigation of crimes in the rural Southeast and Southwest.
And guess what? Bob and Sara were the inspirations for the characters Fox Mulder and Dana Skully in the hit TV series, “The X Files,” which began filming the next year. I was personally involved in several of incidents, which became plots for this TV series. That is why they knew things about the Anti-wife that they couldn’t tell me.
Well, the 12 available professional women that Sara invited to the party were pretty and well-educated, but too bland for my tastes. Then, French ambassador, Jacques Andreani, appeared at the front door with a 27 year old French goddess as his escort. Actually, she looked more Latin American or part Native American than a typical Frenchwoman. Alas, she way out of my league . . . definitely a 10 or a 12 . . . wearing an $85,000 full-length sable coat.
There were many surprises and many unexpected things happened that night, but suffice it to say that at the end of the evening, the French goddess named Vivi and I were in the guest quarters, making out and watching a National Geo TV special on the Okefenokee Swamp, hosted by actor, Pernell Roberts (Adam Cartwright on Bonanza.) A unexpectedly heavy snow storm had made my return to an empty farmhouse in the Shenandoah Valley impossible, so Sara invited Vivi and I to spend the night and Sunday with them in Alexandria, VA. The rest is history.
The next morning, we ate brunch at a historic hotel in Alexandria, toured the historic district then spent the afternoon at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History. On the way to the museum, I was vetted by two intelligence officers from the French Embassy. Oh, did I mention that Vivi had a degree in European History and was secretly a part-time agent with the French version of the CIA? She worked with agents at Interpol and the FBI in the battle against the international drug cartels.
I assumed that I would never see her again, but she showed up at my farm three days later. She said that she wanted to be sure that I was a real person before giving her heart totally to me. In early January, she hired a French electronics expert to install military type hardware and software into my Hewlett-Packard FAX machine and Leading Edge computer to create what was very possibly the first encrypted, international, instant messaging system for civilians. That is how we stayed in contact over the next three years. Consumer instant messaging would not be available until 1997.
Mademoiselle Vivi comes to the National Capitol
I have left out much of Chapter Eight, but we will start when Vivi accepts my invitation to join me at a Special Cheese Tasting in the Senate Meeting Room in honor of National Dairy Month. Beginning in January 1991, Vivi had begun cutting all ties to the music and film industry in France. As she promised God in her prayers on the evening of December 15, 1990, she began spending much of each day with her beloved daughter, Aimee. She also had enrolled in the internationally famous culinary school, Le Cordon Bleu de Paris. Henceforth, her professional energies would be channeled toward the winery and several restaurants that her private company owned.
Vivi and I had not seen each other in about six months, so I FAXed her an invitation to join me in the United States Capitol on the afternoon of June 7th. I also instructed her to have Pierre DuVall send me a FAX, asking me to accompany him on June 8th in a search for a winey site in the Virginia Mountains. I would have to spend the night in Alexandria, in order to meet him early in the morning. Mademoiselle Vivi immediately sent an ecstatic “Oui” to both propositions. She also added that her company would pay me for my time on Saturday, even if involved long showers together, Saturday Evening Delight or Sunday Morning Delight. Of course, Vivi would be there instead of her winery manager, Pierre DuVall.
There was one incident during the 2 ½ week long “Quiet Time.” Someone put a US Army M-80 tripwire explosive across the concrete ramp where I walked in the dim light of dawn to let the goats into the waiting area of the milking parlor. The explosion caused about a hundred shallow shrapnel wounds in my legs – especially my right leg. My legs were still bruised and covered with scabs by the time Vivi arrived.
When we drove up to the actual base of Capitol, we were both in awe. Both of us had seen the Capitol on TV, but to actually stand before this cathedral of democracy was surrealistic. It could only be compared to entering Notre Dame. Here we were hauling picnic coolers of goat cheese into the back door of the room where the Watergate Hearings had been held! Only Lord knows what other history of world importance had occurred in this room . . . and we were sampling goat cheese!
I told Vivi not to wear a Haute Couture dress to the event, since we would be slicing cheese and serving sliced apples and Norwegian Platbrød. Vivi flew in a day early so she could have fun with Sara, her surrogate mother. She brought with her a really cute indigo, white and gold dairy maid’s outfit that she had worn as the co-hostess of the Normandy Dairy Festival. She wore it to the Capitol.
Having Vivi at my side meant that we had by far the largest crowd of any of the booths . . . mostly men gawking at Vivi or women mentally x-raying me with the presumption that I must be some sort of stud to rate a woman like Vivi. Nope, I just treated her with kindness.
I had put out my architecture business cards and so picked up six new architecture clients. I noticed that Vivi was introducing herself as my wife then happened to glance at her left hand. She had slipped on a huge diamond ring from her second fake marriage to the homosexual French actor! During a break in the cheese sampling, she explained that if she didn’t present herself as my wife, we would have been swamped with men, asking her for dates. That was definitely true. Men would come up to our table at restaurants and ask her out.
About 2/3 through the event, I noticed a silver headed lady, surrounded by men in dark suits enter the meeting room. When she got close to our booth, I realized it was the First Lady, Barbara Bush. There were too many people clustered against our table for her to sample cheese, but she did stare at Vivi and say “Oh, how are you?” Vivi smiled back at the lady, but just said, “bonjour!”
I asked Vivi how she knew the woman. Vivi shrugged and said, “Je ne la connais pas.” (I don’t know her.) I responded, “Vivi, she is the wife of the President of the United States!” That jogged Vivi’s memory. She said, “Oh yes, she was at the embassy for Bastille Day last year. I sang ‘La Marseillaise’ there. The important singers get to be in Paris or one of the largest cities.”
“C’est bien, Richard, that is one dream that now will never happen. I will never be on the stage in Paris at Bastille Day and sing, La Marseillaise . . . c’est rien (it’s nothing) . . . when compared to having a beautiful daughter and a handsome Americain, who love the real Vivi. I would much rather live on the farm with you for the rest of my life than ever be in one more film or concert!”
I responded that I could understand how she would want to get away from the corruption in the record and movie industries . . . but she had such a beautiful voice. She could still sing in public. “Besides mon chere’, never say never, who knows what is in both of our futures?”
Barbara Bush posed for a photo op then turned around and headed back to the entrance. Then one of the younger Secret Service agents made a beeline for Vivi. He had a “hey, ain’t I cool” grin on his face, until he was immediately upon her and saw the ring. He pointed at it and asked, <her real name> ”when did THAT happen?”
Vivi introduced me as her “secret husband” and said that we got married last Christmas. The Secret Service officer was obviously contemptuous of me, so then asked her how she got hooked up with a goat farmer. Vivi told him that Ambassador Andreani had recommended me for being the architect of her new winery in Virginia, but then we fell in love. “Now we will be marketing our chevre and wine together.” (Sounds like a nice love story, but that is no quite how it happened.)
Then to get back at him for the sarcastic comment, she added, “Back when you were a little boy in Chicago, Ree-shard was a “James Bond.” He went into the jungles of Central America, armed with nothing but a knife, to meet with guerilla leaders. Bet you wouldn’t do that!” The guy had a stunned look on his face and starred at me for a few seconds.
Vivi asked the Secret Service officer, if it was possible for her to tour the famous US Capitol. He said, “Wait a moment.” He talked to someone on a small G-man type radio then signaled to us with a thumbs-up. Vivi reassured me that I had nothing to worry about with this guy. They had gone out a few times, but like most men she had met, he was mainly in love with himself.
In about 15 minutes a uniformed woman about Vivi’s age appeared. Just at that moment, Vivi had given in to the sudden urge to kiss and embrace me . . . so our first warning was a young woman in uniform-type skirt and blouse “clearing her throat” and giggling.
“Hello, I am Officer Rebecca McKenzie with the National Capitol Police. Are you <Vivi’s real name> a special agent with the Direction générale de la sécurité extérieure?” A stunned Vivi said, “Oui.”
The officer then looked at me, “Are you Richard Thornton of Toms Brook, Virginia, associated with the US Department of Justice Task Force on Local and State Government Corruption? I said “oui” also.
A shocked Vivi looked me in the eye. “Ree-shard, are you being a James Bond again?”
I said, “Well, not really. I am just a volunteer courier. We have much to tell you. Bob and Sara are really FBI agents and they needed my help. ”
The officer had photo ID tags that had been made from frames in a hidden video camera that Vivi’s ex-boyfriend had carried. She explained to us that we were to immediately start wearing them because we were going into areas of the Capitol that were not open to the public. Vivi offered her a sample of our cheeses. Rebecca particularly liked the firm aged cheeses. We began to chat. Back then police officer were considered to be public servants, who were regular folks just like the rest of us.
Rebecca was an officer and a tour guide from Brevard, NC. She had a college degree from Appalachian State University. Back then the female officers dressed like women and wore long hair. They were making her wait far beyond her “going home” time just to give us the VIP tour. I guess she thought that we were very important people . . . well, maybe Vivi was. She told us when we were finished at the cheese tasting to notify one of the officers, guarding the doors, and he would radio her to come down to meet us.
The Awe-inspiring Rotunda
The House of Representatives
This was fascinating. In the hallway leading to the House of Representatives, I spied a familiar name on the wall beneath a large painting. I asked Vivi, if she recognized the name. She said, “Oui, bien sûr! (Yes, of course) It is the Marquis de Lafayette, a hero of the French Revolution. He was neither extreme left or right and so almost went to the guillotine . . . but his life was spared by some American. Why is his painting here in the US Capitol?”
The Marquis de Lafayette was a hero of the American Revolution also, plus he was the first foreigner to address Congress. Many towns in the United States are named after him. It was the author of the American Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, who pleaded for the Marquis’ life. Did you know that Jefferson also helped the Marquis write your famous revolutionary document, “The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen?”
Vivi responded, “Mais non! No one ever told us that an American partially wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Man. I have learned much today!”
Rebecca let us actually walk along the floor level, where the Congressmen sit. Then Vivi got a mischievous look to her. She asked me who sat in the big chair at the top center of the platform. I told her, the Speaker of the House. She then asked me if a woman had ever sat in that chair before. I told her, no. Vivi then asked permission to be the first woman to ever sit in the chair. Rebecca told her yes . . . for a little bit . . . but please be careful. I took a really cute photo of Vivi in her French dairy maid outfit, sitting in the chair . . . knowing full well that there would probably never be a female Speaker of the House in our life times.
Vivi then arose from the chair and gave a brief, passionate speech to an imaginary audience on how both France and the United States were wasting 2/3 of their brainpower by having white men control all aspects of government. The brutal way she was treated by her own government officials, after being defiled by a Saudi prince, would have never happened if there had been women at administrative levels. She challenged the United States to put people of all races and both genders in Congress and the White House. An African-American Capitol cop cheered from the shadows of the rear of the chamber with that comment. We then headed to the Senate Chamber.
The United States Senate
We were surprised to learn that the chambers now used by the House and Senate today were not the ones occupied by famous Americans in the early 1800s. First we passed the Old Senate Chamber. It was used by the Senate from 1819 to 1859. Rebecca told Vivi that it was a copy of a legislative chamber constructed in Paris near the end of the French Revolution.
We continued down a magnificent hallway that it seemed inspired by Versailles Palace. It is called the Brumidi Corridor. It is seldom seen by tourists or short term visitors to the National Capitol.
The floor of the US Senate was more spacious than that of the House of Representatives. Again, Rebecca let us walk on the floor, but told us not to open or even touch the desks. Again, Vivi asked me who sat in the top chair at center. I told her, “The Vice President of the United States.” She asked if any woman had ever been Vice President. I told her no, and it was not likely that there would be a woman vice president or president in our life time.
Again, Vivi asked to be the first woman to sit in the Vice President’s chair. She was only sitting there for a few seconds, but did not give a speech this time. She reminded me the other day, though, that she had predicted a woman would be vice president in our lifetime. Well, Vivi was right about both the Speaker of the House and the Vice President. As of January 20, 2021 we have a woman as Speaker of the House and as Vice President. Unfortunately, Kamala Harris will have to be satisfied with being the second woman to sit in her chair!
Now this is an example of how special Vivi is. She asked Rebecca where she lived and if she had a boyfriend. The woman lived in the Capital View Neighborhood and had a boyfriend. Vivi then asked where their favorite restaurant was. She told Rebecca that there would be a free romantic meal for she and her boyfriend at that restaurant. She scribbled a note for Rebecca to give her waiter.
We then drove my Toyota pickup to the little Italian restaurant, beloved by Rebecca and her boyfriend. While I drove around the block, Vivi pre-paid for the two most expensive meals and wine bottle on the menu. Then Vivi offered to pay my way for a very expensive Italian restaurant in Alexandria that even had violinists. Oh it was romantic . . . like being in a movie . . . with a beautiful actress. Wait a minute! I was with an actress. Vivi just didn’t seem like what I thought glamorous actresses would be like. I was back to living in a surreal world, where I still didn’t feel I quite belonged.
Later that evening, Vivi was singing a beautiful French love song to me in the shower of the Guest Quarters bathroom. She happened to glance down at the floor of the shower and saw blood seeping down my legs from where scabs had been washed off. She let out a, “Mon Dieu, mon pauvre Richard” then a piercing scream that woke up Bob and Sara. There was much that I had not been telling Vivi on our instant messaging system.
The other day, Vivi reminded me that she had demanded that I fly back to France with her immediately after the blood in the shower incident. She had more money than she knew what to spend on and she could quickly find me a job advising French goat cheese makers how to modernize their operations. For three decades, we could have lived lives almost like in paradise, if I had listened to her. Back then, she said that things were going to get worse rather than better . . . although neither one of us envisioned my worse lasting for most of the time I have lived in Georgia . . . until very recently. Who would think that rural white Georgia cops would try to punish me for 20 years, because I refused to join their Republican Party. But then, I was not always wrong about my advice to Vivi, either. Vive la révolution!
Vivi . . . Remember I said, “Never Say Never!”