Friday, July 31, 2015

Missing It...

You guys.

I'm missing GenCon.  Last year it was the most glorious three days I'd had in a long time.  Cosplayers, good friends, great food trucks, and GAMES.  Tons of games.  We spent all of that Saturday testing games.  Hours and hours.  It was brilliant.

And then Indiana had to go and do that shitty thing where they said it was okay to not serve the gays. Well, they're wrong.  It's not okay.  So...we're skipping it.  And it's KILLING ME!

It's also saving me hundreds of dollars that I'm sure I'll be glad I have at some point, but right now it's *cue fainting couch* KILLING ME!

Anyone know if the federal recognition of gay marriage has done anything to nullify that stupid, stupid law?  Anyone else ACTUALLY putting their money where their mouth is and NOT going?  IT's exhausting, y'all.  Not eating at Chik-fil-A, not shopping at Hobby Lobby, not getting gas at Mobil, not going to GenCon.  The list goes on.  But it's important to me that  companies stop being bigoted assholes and get with the times.

And I know...whoop-de-do.  One customer.  Like they're even going to notice one missing among the thousands stuffing their faces and shopping carts.  But I'm hoping that by being an example and spreading the word, maybe it'll have an effect on just one more person.

You're not a horrible person for shopping where you do.  I'm not somehow better than you because I don't shop at these places or visit these events.  It's exhausting.  I'd much rather forget it all and just GO, SHOP, STOP ABSTAINING...but...I just can't.

Maybe by next year Indiana will get its shit together and we can once again revel in the glory that is GenCon.  I'll start saving now.

Out

Triumphal Entry...

Hey, chilluns.  What's up with you?

Shh.  Don't answer.  I don't care, and I can't hear you anyway.

If you're not reading my blog, you're probably justified in that.  Because one post a year doesn't a blog make.  Just like one furious burst of writing doesn't a novelist make.

Or maybe it does.  NaNoWriMo is drawing near.  But that's another story for another time.

Why am I here?  Well, wine, for one.  And for two, it's been a while since I've actually let anyone in to know what was going on in my life.

Currently, I'm working a job I hate that offers me okay benefits (whose prices just went up, according to a letter I received today, almost a full month after they went up) and decent pay in exchange for showing up and not telling people exactly what I think of them.  My specialty.  In the years I've been in customer service, I've not told people they were rude, lazy, horrible, and ugly.  And that's being nice.  Just imagine all the jobs I could have lost, had I let people know exactly what I thought of them.

Way back when I was working for a bank, I interviewed for a position in the loans department, doing paperwork.  It was a cry for help.  A rope leading away from customer service and into a world that was quieter, less stressful for someone who didn't particularly care to pretend he liked you anymore.  And they told me in that interview that I was more suited to a customer service position.  That I was GOOD AT IT.  Then they fired me for losing it on a customer who was drugged out of his mind and screaming at me.  So...they were wrong, clearly.

And here I am now working full-time, serving people I don't particularly care for, smiling, and not bashing in skulls.  It's hard work.  I'm exhausted when I get home.  And often, I have to be ON there, too.  No down time.  Thankfully, I have my mornings four days a week.  Quiet.  Tame.  Aside from cat puke and yowling and phone calls and finding lunch.  But...really...90% of my down time is spent reading or playing video games.

So that's where I'm at.  Currently.  I'm not sure why you need to know that, but this is the Internet, and you're here.  So...there.  I'm back.  For now.

Out

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Elevens...

I've been nominated by Bryan Ochalla of The Gay Gamer to complete an eleven (it took me three tries to type that word) question series of surveys including 11 Q&A exchanges and eleven interesting (their word, not mine) fact about myself.  It's part of a nomination circle of something called a Liebster Award, which is handed out to people other people think are the loveliest bloggers in their circle.  I'm not sure I live up to that, especially recently, but I'm game!

Well, Bryan gave me the same questions he had, so let's start there.

1.  Can you tell something typical about the country you live in?

My country is the U.S.A.  I'm not really all that proud of it, to be honest.  I'm not one of those "GO USA!" people.  I didn't choose it.  I don't feel a particular affinity for it.  But it's where I live.  The country is home to as many different kinds of people and ways of living as you could imagine.  Finding something "typical" is as hard as finding something atypical.  I guess, if I had to say something typical about my country, it'd be that we have a hard time seeing anything in any viewpoint other than the American one.  It's built and bred into us, and is buried so deep that rooting it out would be next to impossible.

2.  Why did you take up blogging?

I'm going to answer this and then answer an unasked question:  why did I quit blogging?  I started blogging because I was bored one December day.  I thought, "I want to write something."  And someone read it.  And they enjoyed it.  And they told me so.  When I went away to college, my blog was the place to go for photos and stories about what was going on on campus.  My camera came with me everywhere, and I always had something to say.  It was nice being in the limelight.  After college, I didn't feel like I had much else to say that was even close to as interesting, but I kept doing it.  Several people took to policing my blog and confronting me in real life about the things I wrote there, twisting my words to mean something I didn't say.  I didn't feel comfortable with my words being used as weapons against them or me.  I didn't feel like I could speak freely, anymore, so I quit.

3.  Do you set yourself a goal or a number of blogs per week or month?

Not anymore.  I used to try to blog every weekday.  I'd save photos and stories so I'd have something to share every day.  It was part of my midday routine, to throw together a blog post.  Sometimes I worked for days on a post, only to have Xanga eat it and ruin days of hard work.  Anymore, though, I don't have any regular posting schedule, and when I post, not many people see it anymore.

4.  Where do you get your inspiration to write?

Everyday life provides more stories than I could tell.  I have always drawn from that rich well of experience.  If I can share a lesson or make someone laugh or--hope of hope--both, then I feel like I've done my job well.

5.  Do you own more than one gaming device, and which ones?

Ha!  Umm...yes.  Way more.  I have an NES, SNES, N64, Gamecube, Gameboy Advance SP, Gameboy Color, Wii, Wii U, PSX, PS2, PS3, a 3DS, a DS, and a PC.  And my phone.  I have more of that stuff than I care to admit.  I probably have a thousand of hours of back log to get through.  Maybe more.

6.  What are your favorite kinds of games?

I am very much into games that have a sense of humor or that make me think.  My go-to are RPGs.  The best time in gaming was when Super NES RPGs were in full force.  Or now, when all that stuff is fairly readily available.  Other than that, I enjoy life sims, platformers, and retro-inspired games.

7.  What are your three favorite movies?

Angels in America, Clue, and the Breakfast Club, in that order.

8.  What is your go-to music when you feel sad?

My go-to sad music is a series of CDs I made inspired by tampon commercials.  They're called "Songs for Those Heavy Days."  It's a lot of sad music.  I wallow.  Clearly.  Otherwise, I go to anything I can sing at the top of my lungs in the car or in the shower.

9.  Does your work or study match your blogging topics?

Considering my blogging topics are now and have always been about real life, yes.  Work provides plenty of stories for my blog, were I to share them.  Like yesterday, I was given a free meal for a perfect customer service mystery shop interaction, and then I was reamed by an old man because I "need lessons in customer service."  Because he didn't get what he wanted.  Which was something ridiculous.  I'd write about that stuff all the time, but it would just make me irate.  As far as study goes?  I have an English degree...so...'nuff said.

10.  If you have a partner, is he or she into gaming?

I do have a fiance.  And he is into gaming.  We play Smash Bros and Mario Kart and all kinds of stuff together.  We spend 120 hours completing almost 100% of Just Cause 2.  We tooled around in Grand Theft Auto.  We play anything that make us laugh and shake our heads.  And then there's board games.  We play so many so often, it would take a whole post to tell you about it.  But I've spent a long time cultivating a gaming group, and I'm glad he is a part of it.

11.  What kind of pet do you have?

We have a grouchy old cat named Marbles, and we love him more than life itself.  I'd post a photo, but if I opened that box, I'd never shut it.  And the internet has enough cat blogs.

-------

Now...11 "interesting" facts about myself?

1.  I've written nine novels, four screenplays, and once wrote a poem every day for an entire year.

2.  I often imagine someone will recognize me for my talents in some mundane thing I don't even think about.  I picture that interaction in my head more often than I can tell.  Example:  "Wow...you're a REALLY GOOD snapper!  I'm looking for someone to snap during this track I wrote.  It doesn't pay much, but..."

3.  I rehearse conversations in my head before I have them.  I'm constantly running lines with people who don't even know it.  If it's not in my repertoire of pre-loaded conversation, I have trouble coming up with the right words on the spot.  It gets worse as I get older, and I'm worried it's something clinical.

4.  If I'm not rehearsing conversations, I'm replaying them and thinking about what I could have said to be more witty or charming or mean or cutting or smart or whatever.

5.  I spend most mornings playing video games before I go to work.

6.  My favorite animal is the hippo.  They're unsuspectingly dangerous.

7.  My biggest pet peeve is people who don't return common courtesy.  If I say hello, you should respond in kind.  I don't care what kind of day you're having.  If you're an adult, you should be able to interact in a civil manner with people you don't know.  Say thank you.  Instead of saying, "Yup," when I wish you a good day, say "You, too," or "You're welcome."  Just be a decent human being.

8.  Flattery will get you everywhere.  I'm a sucker for a compliment.

9.  I have issues with expectations.  I expect too much from myself, and therefore expect the same out of everyone around me.  If I care THIS MUCH you should care THIS MUCH, too.  If you don't I feel like I'm the only one putting in the effort.  And then I shut down.  It's neurotic.  And then there's this:  if you expect me to do something, or you expect a certain action out of me, chances are, you'll get it.  I think that comes from a long childhood of people-pleasing.  Educational systems teach us that, if nothing else.  And I was nothing if not a good student.

10.  I got straight A's in college, but not in high school.

11.  Half my personality is in my hair and eyebrows.

---------

Thanks for sharing, Bryan!  I hope someone comes to check this out some day.

Out

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Update:

Everything is shit.  That is all.  If you need me, I'll be somewhere quiet, ignoring all of you.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The End.

And that's it.

It was a reckless exercise in fiction.  A sprinted marathon.  But there it is in all its flawed glory.  Typos.  Plot holes.  Character issues.  And maybe a few words that are actually quite good.

Did you follow along?  Are you still back in chapter 7 wondering what the hell is going on with these people and when I'm going to find a story?  Finish!  It's short!

Did I lose you?  Where and why?

I'd love to hear from anyone who read it, even if it's years after I posted this.  I'll get an email letting me know you commented.  Please do!

Alright.  Maybe next year I'll post another.

OUT

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Chapter 16 and the Epilogue - The End...

Chapter 16

At the police station, Gwynne and Juliette were ushered into a waiting room against their will.  
“Not again,” said Gwynne.
“You’d better not leave us here all day like the last time, you wankers!” Juliette shouted.  
She just wanted to be by Petros’s side.  He looked incredibly pale before they carried him away.  With Mozer dead, she worried about his position with the police.  He had planned to testify against Mozer in order to get out of a harsh sentence for his history of petty crimes in the city.  But now, she wasn’t certain at all what would happen.  
Several minutes later, the door opened and the chief’s wife walked in with a basket of sandwiches and cups for soup.  She stopped when she saw the girls.  “You again?”
“Us again,” said Gwynne, waving weakly.
“You’ve really got to stay out of trouble.”
“It’s not us!  It’s the men.  They can’t seem to go a day without having some officer or another after them.”
“Where are they now?” she asked as she poured the steaming soup from a huge thermos into the cups.  
“Hopefully they’re still at the hospital.”
The chief’s wife looked at them, alarmed.  “What happened?”
“It’s a long story, but the short version is that they were both shot.”
“Oh my stars.”
“They’ll be fine.  But you know men.  One bullet and they’re whining like babies.” Gwynne said.
The chief’s wife nodded and smiled. Juliette snorted.  The soup and sandwiches were delicious, as always, and over the course of the next hour, they told the chief’s wife everything that had happened to them since last she saw them.  She refilled their soup and handed out extra halves of sandwiches until the plates stopped emptying.  
It felt good to talk about what had happened, and Gwynne let out some of the things she had been holding in the whole trip.  The chief’s wife listened attentively and nodded occasionally.  Juliette added her perspective occasionally, until they’d run out of words and a silence filled the space where the future would be.  
The chief’s wife stood and wiped her hands on the front of her pants. “Well, that’s quite a story.  And don’t you worry.  Your secrets are safe with me.  I’m not taking official statements.  Save those for the detective.  I hope your friends recover quickly and everything works out for you all.”
“Thank you. For everything,” Gwynne said, rising to hug the woman.  
She left the room, and the two women settled in to wait for however long it took them.  Two minutes later, the door opened and the detective entered.  
“I’m detective Panter,” he said in perfect English.  “I understand you ladies have a story for me.  
He placed a recording device on the table before asking them for their statements.  They told the story again, this time just the facts.  He took notes in addition to the recorder.  When they were done, he stood and thanked them.  “Do either of you have any questions about the process?”
Juliette put on her best doe eyes.  “What’s going to happen to my friend Petros?”
The detective looked back, unmoved.  “He will get what is due to him, but that isn’t for me to decide.  The trial will be held whenever he is fit enough to get out of the hospital.  After that, he’s at the mercy of the court.”
Before he left the room, he turned.  “And officer will be in to take you home.”
Gwynne looked at Juliette.  Juliette looked at the detective.  “We don’t really have a home, at the moment.”
He stopped.
Juliette continued.  “My apartment was given up when we were going to leave.  Petros’s apartment is a crime scene.  All of my stuff is in a storage unit that only Le Ours knows about.  The papers probably burnt up in the fire that left us without even a safe house to stay at.”
“There’s a government funded home for transients I can drop you at.”
The prospective didn’t sound appealing to either of them, but it beat living on the streets.  He had an officer take them there.  They rode in silence the whole way, decompressing after the tension of the last few days.  Gwynne couldn’t believe it was all over.  Although, it wasn’t really over; they couldn’t leave the country yet because of the court process.  Juliette just wanted to get back to her apartment.  She wondered if anyone had rented it yet.  
The government home was a large, squat set of buildings on a well-maintained plot of land.  They weren’t particularly remarkable in any architectural sense, just short flat rectangles with low-pitched roofs and front doors that contained no windows, just a peep hole.  After filling out paperwork and getting the blessing of the police officer, Juliette and Gwynne were put up in an olive building near the back of the plot.  Each home had a kitchen and bathroom, two bedrooms, and a small area designated as a living room.  The furnishings were sparse and cheap looking, but they were glad to have a space all their own.  
The police officer said he would look into her storage unit for Juliette.  He couldn’t guarantee they would find anything, but he expected one of the boys might know something about Le Ours’s backup records, if he kept any.  Juliette made him promise to find Adam and Petros and let them know where the girls were.
The seventeen now homeless boys were put up in the two homes next to Juliette and Gwynne’s.  They got an extra bedroom in each of theirs and bunk beds.  It was a tight squeeze, but they were used to living together and they would help each other cope with the loss of their benefactor.  The girls enjoyed having familiar faces around, although they might not admit to it.  
Later that day Juliette called her landlord from the office phone to see about her old apartment.  It had been rented almost immediately after she left by an older American couple looking for a reasonable place to live during retirement.  She hung up the phone after her landlord wished her luck.
When she got back to the house, she found Gwynne staring at a corner.  “Well, it’s rented.”
“You got it?”
“No.  Some old American couple rented it.  I’d feel bad getting them evicted, so I guess it’s on to plan B.”
Gwynne furrowed her brow.  “What’s plan B?”
Juliette sighed.  “I don’t know.  I was hoping you would have something.”
Gwynne thought for a moment.  “What about our original plan?”
Juliette plopped down on the firm sofa.  “Refresh my memory?”
“Going to Chicago.  Living in the city.  You know, getting away from it all.”
“Forgive me if I’m not jumping at the chance, but look at how well it ended up for you.”
Gwynne ran a hand over her bullet hole.  It was healing nicely, but it still itched occasionally.  
Juliette continued, “And that apartment belonged to a now dead bear.  I’m sure he willed it to his boys or something.”
“I can’t imagine he would own something big enough for all his boys.  He’d have to be a millionaire.”
“Well, you saw what kind of weight he was throwing around here.  I imagine the only thing that can get you as far as he got is money.”
Gwynne sat next to Juliette on the couch.  The weight of the day caught up to her and she was suddenly feeling exhausted.  “Maybe the boys will have some suggestions when they get out.”
“If they get out,” Juliette said.

——————

Adam was released later that day from the hospital, his shoulder patched and stitched, his good arm in a sling.  He went to find Petros, who was still in surgery, a desk clerk told him.  He waited in the small sitting area outside the operating room.  After a few minutes of French television chatter, he dozed.  
When he awoke, everything looked the same.  He got up to ask after Petros.  The orderly gave him the room number.  It seemed he had slept through the rest of the surgery.  He followed the instructions to the elevators.  Without a good arm, pushing the buttons was a trial.  Finally, he used his nub to press the call button.  When the doors opened, he tried for his floor, floor four, and got two others.  He rode the elevator to three.  The doors opened and closed with no one getting on.  At four, he passed a woman in a green wool peacoat getting on.  He held up his stump and said, “I’m sorry.  I pressed more than one floor.”
They looked at him with a blank face.  He’d forgotten again that not everyone spoke English.  He shrugged as the doors closed and turned to find Petros’s room.  Petros was sleeping off his anesthesia.  Adam took a seat next to his bed and waited.  
He wondered what the girls were doing, if they’d been seen by the police yet.  The thought of going home filled him with exhaustion and relief.  He missed being able to communicate freely.  He missed having responsibilities.  Most of all, he missed belonging somewhere.  As it stood now, he was homeless.  They all were.  
He imagined Petros had a home in a cell when they were done here.  But he and Gwynne and Juliet?  Their future was uncertain.  Adam dozed in his chair, wishing for a hot bath and a warm bed.  The door opened and he awoke with a start.  
“I’m sorry.  I didn’t meant to frighten you.”  It was a police officer. 
“No.  It’s okay.  I’m just…” he trailed off.
“I was sent to tell you that your friends?  They are in the government transient homes.”
“Are they okay?”
“I am sure they are fine.”
He hadn’t seen them since they shut the doors of the ambulance on him.  He was glad to know they were taken care of.  
“Would you like to go to them now?” the officer asked in broken English.
“I think I’ll stay here.”
“Is your lover going to be okay?”
“He’s not my…umm…yes.  I think he will be, now.”
The officer nodded his head, bid Adam adieu, and left.  Adam watched the sun track across the sky, lengthening the shadows in his room.  Back home it would be late morning.  He would be hungry, as he was now.  “Hold tight, Petros.  I’ll be back.”  It made him feel better to say it, even if Petros wasn’t conscious.  
The nurse at the station was staring at the television in the corner.  “Excuse me,” Adam said.  “If he wakes up, could you page me?”
He left his name and got directions to the cafeteria.  There wasn’t much on offer that he recognized by name on the menu board.  He pointed to a sandwich in the cold case, got coffee at the vending machine, and sat in the quiet cafeteria munching his sandwich and feeling glad to be alive.  It was a quiet happiness that burned in his chest.  Something born of wandering and waiting and enjoying a quiet meal by himself.  When he started this journey, he pictured local foods and small cafes.  He thought of sitting on a silk pillow around a short table, tasting something he couldn’t pronounce.  Somehow, this cold sandwich and bad coffee was just as good.  
When the food was gone, he wandered around the ground floor, stretching his legs.  He wasn’t in a hurry to go back up to the room just to watch Petros sleep.  After two rounds, he decided it was time to check on his friend.  He took the elevator back up, this time hitting the button he needed on the dot.  
When he got back to the room, Petros was awake.  He turned to look at Adam coming in.  “Hey.”
“You’re awake.”
“Barely.  Where are the girls?”
“I guess they’re in the government home.  An officer was here.  He filled me in.”
Petros was quiet for a moment.  “He’s dead.”
“Good riddance, that son of a bitch.”
“No.  Not Mozer.  Papa Bear.”
“Oh.”  Adam didn’t have anything to say that would add anything to the conversation, so he let the silence be his answer.
“I can’t believe it.  What are those boys going to do without him?”
“You think he didn’t provide instructions for this eventuality?”
“I don’t know.  I never even considered he COULD die.  I mean…I know he’s mortal, but he always seemed…”
“Larger than life?”
Petros sighed.  “Larger than death.”
“You really loved him, didn’t you?”  Adam couldn’t imagine how, but he knew it was true.
“I did.  But…he loved enough for all of us.  He didn’t need it.  He was full of so much love that you couldn’t help but feel that way.  I know it seems weird, a big fat old man in a house full of pretty young boys.  But he was more than a lecherous opportunist.  He really did care for each and every one of us.  He took care of us.  He got us jobs.  Found us homes.  He was our family.  Which makes all of that sound very wrong, but it’s true.  I loved him like a father…”  
Petros paused.  Adam waited.
“I don’t know.  It sounds wrong, given our history.  But it’s true.”
“Well, I’m sure he was proud of you.  He certainly loved you.  That’s not something you should have any question about.”
“And I don’t.  Not at all.”
They sat in silence for a while, watching the French television and glancing at people passing by the doorway.  It had been only two months and some change since Adam met Petros in that crowded roundabout under the Arc de Triomphe, yet they had been through so much together.  Adam felt like he finally had a close friend, someone he was able to be open and honest with.  And honestly, he didn’t want to lose that.
“Petros.”
“Yeah?”
“What do you think about coming to America?”
“The movie?”
“No, you idiot.  Like we planned.”
“I very highly doubt I’m going to be able to leave the country any time soon.”
“Well, be that as it may, you’re still welcome to come stay with me when your debts to society have been paid.”
Petros chuckled.  “Debts to society, eh?  That’s one way of putting it.”
“I’m serious.”
“Well, I appreciate the offer, but you don’t even have a place to live yet.”
“Or a job.  Or a car.  Or anything.  But even still.  The invitation stands.”
“As does my thanks.”
The matter was dropped in favor of silence.  Later that night, he phoned a taxi service and had them take him to the government home the officer had directed him to.  It was an exhausted reunion.  Juliette gave him a big hug and went to bed, saying she would get up early and go see Petros in the morning.  Gwynne sat with him on the sofa, telling him about the boys next door and how they’re all settling in, about what had happened after he was taken away in the ambulance, and about how she and Juliette talked about going back to America together.  
“I talked to Petros about that same thing.  Of course, he might have longer to wait before he’s free to travel.”
“Well, we can’t really go anywhere, either, what with the trial and all.”
Adam hadn’t considered that.  He settled into the sofa and leaned against Gwynne.  She threw and arm around him and squeezed, careful not to touch his bandaged and sling-bound arm.  They sat that way for a while, watching the lights pass by their complex on a nearby road, thinking of home, despite the fact that it didn’t really exist at the moment.  
Two weeks passed, and Petros was kept at the hospital, healing.  He whined about getting out of there every time they went to see him, but the nurses wouldn’t clear him until they were sure he would be free from infection and able to support himself with his reconstructed core.  It was much different than the fast-food service version of hospital care in America, and Adam was glad he’d received his care here, instead. 
In the first week of Petros’s convalescence, Juliette received a letter in the mail from a storage company, informing her about payment options and finally cluing her in to where her belongings were held.  The home had everything she could need, so she didn’t retrieve any of her stuff from the locker.  A second sheet in the envelope informed her that her bill was paid through the rest of the year.  She silently thanked Papa Bear.  
Three days into Petros’s third week in the hospital, the nurse came to his room and checked his bandages.  She cleared him to leave with no ceremony.  He dressed in an outfit Adam had brought him and stood next to his bed, staring at the doorway like he couldn’t believe he was free.  No officer stopped him on his way out.  There weren’t police cars waiting for him at the door.  Nothing hindered him from getting in a taxi with Adam and cutting across the city to the government housing.  At every stoplight he expected lights and sirens to bloom behind him.  Every car was a potential police car.  It was torture.
Adam paid the taxi driver with a credit card and sent him away.  Petros looked at him.  “When did you get a credit card?”
“It came in the mail.  An expense card, from a mysterious benefactor.”  He smiled at Petros.  
“I missed his funeral.”
“You did.  It was a real production.  It seemed like everyone in the city turned out for it.  That man really had some sway in this town.”
“I’ll never know all he did for me, that’s for sure.  Paris is a poorer place without him.”
Adam nodded.  “But at least he took a terrible scourge away with him when he went.”
Petros didn’t want to talk about Mozer.  It was enough that he was gone.  He didn’t deserve to be eulogized by anyone, friend or foe.  “I still can’t believe they let me leave the hospital.”
“Why not?”
“I should be in custody.  I should be answering for what I did.”
“Maybe you already have.”
“That’s ridiculous.  The justice system doesn’t work that way.  When the police hear that I’m out, they’ll be here in minutes.  They’re probably already on their way.”
They spent a nervous day at the home.  Every siren was coming their way.  Every car outside was his last ride as a free man.  Darkness drew its blanket over the city of lights, and Petros was still free.  He knew something had happened while he was in that hospital, but he couldn’t figure out what it was.  Papa Bear was dead.  Could his influence have been so strong that it reached beyond the grave?  Surely not.
In the morning, after a night of light sleep, Petros was still a free man.  They made plans, had lunch as a group, and in that simple act, cemented their future together.  That night, an officer arrived at their door.  Petros answered it, almost relieved that the hammer of justice was finally coming down.  The officer didn’t berate him, didn’t tackle and shackle him, didn’t even mention what he had done in a time that seemed like years ago.  He just handed Petros a letter and drove away.
Petros could hardly believe it.  He staggered back inside and collapsed onto the couch.  
“What is it, Pet?” Juliette said, sitting next to him.
“They didn’t…I should be…”  He was at a loss for words.
Adam smiled at him.  “I told you.  That man was a magician.”
Gwynne saw the envelope in his hands.  “What’s that?”
Petros glanced at it as if seeing it for the first time.  “I don’t know.”
Juliette nudged him, which made him wince.  “Open it, Pet!  Sweet Jesus!  Don’t leave us all in suspense.”
Petros tore the end of the envelope off and eased the letter out.  It was a legal statement, typed on elaborate letterhead, on paper of such high quality that he felt bad it ever got folded.  He scanned the words, not believing exactly what was in front of him.  Papa Bear, whose name he learned in the letter, finally, had left him something in the will.  He read the letter three more times before it sunk in.  
“What’s it say Pet?”
He handed it to Juliette, and a second sheet of paper fell away from the first.  It was a handwritten letter in Papa Bear’s own handwriting.  

Dear Petros,
Do not mourn for me, for my life is a life well-lived.  Instead, take this and use it in a way that honors the love that we shared.  You have said since I met you that Paris was the most beautiful place you have ever lived, but I can tell that you do not want to stay forever.  Trust me when I say that I know this city.  It is nothing compared to any other place.  Consider this your ticket to a life lived elsewhere.  I love you still, and I always have.
Make me proud,
Papa
P.S.  When you get there, do me the favor of getting a real, honest job.  A life of crime is fine for an adolescent, but do not dally there.  The world doesn’t need another Jackal.  Especially not after the considerable expense I endured securing your amnesty.

And that was it.  Juliette whooped on the couch next to him.  He jumped.  
“What?” Adam and Gwynne asked in unison.
Juliette shook Petros by the arm.  “Tell them, Pet.”
“He…gave us the apartment.”
Gwynne thought of the pile of soggy ash that lay where his beautiful home had stood.  “I don’t understand…that place is gone.”
Adam said, “No.  Not here.  The one in Chicago!  It’s the one in Chicago, right Petros?”
Petros nodded.  
Gwynne looked at Juliette.  “Why are you so happy?  I thought you wanted to stay here.”
“Look!”  She shove the legal note under Gwynne’s face.  
“That’s…that’s a lot of zeroes,” she said, counting them.  
Adam’s eyes widened.  “Whoa.  I wish that he were alive so I could kiss him!”
Petros shook his head.  “He got me off.”
Juliette wrinkled her nose.  “Ew.  Pet, no.”
“Not like THAT!  I’m off the hook!  No police. No jail.  I don’t know how he did it, but he cleared me!”  He jumped to his feet and looked for someone to hug.  
They all obliged him, whooping and hollering like outcasts rescued from a deserted island.  After everything they’d been through, one of them was being richly rewarded.  
Petros sobered.  “Guys.”
They waited.  
“We have to tell the boys.  They’re going to have to pack!”
“Pack?” Adam asked.
“Yeah!  If they’re coming with us, they’ve got to get ready!”
Gwynne looked at Adam, looked at Petros.  “Why would they come with us?”
“You heard what he said!  ‘Use it in a way that honors the love that we shared.’  What better way than to invite them along?!”
“Is there room?”
“There’s more than enough room.  You guys don’t even know!  I have to go tell them!”  He ran out the door, whooping like an idiot into the night.

Epilogue

Adam walked from his office to the apartment.  It was the first perfect day of spring.  The sun warmed the new grass and leaves chattered in the breeze.  He took the stairs, holding the rail with his good hand.  He still wasn’t used to the prosthetic on his left, but with time, the doctors told him, it would be like second nature.  
He waved at the boys on the first floor as he passed them.  They had mostly settled in to their life in the city.  Some of them had even gotten jobs, although Papa Bear had left them each enough money to never have to work.  It wasn’t easy for them initially, especially the ones who didn’t know English.  But after a few months, they were settling in to a comfortable routine.  Several had stayed back in Paris, not quite ready to start a new life away from everything they knew.  Adam was glad for the company of the ones who stayed.  They were like family now, and Petros was making sure to take care of them in any way he could.  
Without the threat of imminent death over his head, Petros had discovered he was actually quite a good painter.  The city made a lovely model for him, and his gallery show was coming up soon.  Granted, it was just some artwork hanging in a local restaurant for a few weeks, but he considered it sort of a retribution for ridding the world of beautiful things just to collect a paycheck.  
Gwynne was writing when he got home.  She wrote a lot nowadays.  All the sights and sounds and experiences she had in Paris had to go somewhere when she got home.  She’d started a blog after her own journal didn’t seem to do the trick.  With the money Petros had given them, she could afford to live for a while without a career.  She even talked about selling her experiences as a book some day.  
Juliette had taken longer than them to settle in.  She still pouted about how Chicago could never rival the beauty of Paris, and she was right.  But she tried to acclimate herself to life in another city with a personality just as big as the one she left.  She was teaching French at a private elementary school a few blocks from their apartment.  Being from France had gotten her though the screening process a lot more quickly than other people, and she was the obvious choice when they saw how she interacted with the children.  She thought her time with the boys of Papa Bear’s flat had softened her and taught her how to be motherly to a room full of children.  

Life hadn’t returned to normal, at least not in the sense that it was before Adam threw a dart at a piece of paper mounted to the wall.  It was, however, much, much better than any of them could have ever hoped.  Their joy was always shot through with a touch of sadness, for their material comfort came at the expense of one of the world’s truly great men.  A responsibility to make life better for others was inherent in their gratitude.  Adam would spend a lifetime trying to repay even a little of the kindness that had been shown to him.  They all would.  And even years later, on nights when he walked himself home under the street lights, shivering from a fall wind, he would remember the Paris incident, all they had endured and all that had befallen them, and he would smile.  

----------------

OUT

Friday, December 19, 2014

Chapter 15 - Shit happens...

Chapter 15

In the morning Juliette woke with a plan.  She stuck her head in to the room where Gwynne and Adam were still sleeping.  “Gwynne.”
She stirred.  “Huh?”  A string of drool had dripped from her mouth onto her plaid, button front shirt.  
“Hey, you’re awake.  Listen, I’m going back to the hospital to see what I can learn about Petros.”
“What?”
Adam stirred.  They both stopped talking to look at him.  He opened his eyes and sat up. Gwynne waited for a reaction.  He yawned and looked at them.
“Adam?” She reached a hand out tentatively.  
He didn’t flinch.  “Gwynne.”
Juliette clapped.  “Oh, you’re back!”  She had to stop herself from rushing him.  She’d worried most of the night that they wouldn’t ever get him to return to himself.
He looked at himself.  “I’m naked.”
Juliette smiled.  “Yeah.”
Gwynne pulled the blanket down over his lap.  “You were here when we came back.  What happened to you?”
“Petros!  Where is Petros?”  Adam’s eyes slipped back toward crazy.  
Gwynne took his hand.  “We’re not sure, exactly.  Juliette says he’s in the hospital, but we haven’t actually gotten to see him yet.  Speaking of the hospital, I was told that’s where you were.  What happened?”
Adam thought about the last twelve hours.  It all seemed like some horrible dream.  He remembered Mozer’s slimy touch after endless blows.  He thought about the faces, agape with horror, that he’d seen in the streets.  He remembered searching for Petros.  And sirens.  He was’t ready to talk about any of it yet.  “I don’t know.  It’s all pretty hazy still.”
“But you’re back!” said Juliette, smiling.
Gwynne looked him over.  She knew he was hiding something.  “Juliette, can you see if Petros has some clothes Adam could wear?”
She left the doorway.  Gwynne leaned next to Adam and kissed his cheek.  He just stared.  “Adam, I know something happened to you back there, and when you’re ready to talk about it, I’ll be ready to hear it.”
His secret was a bird in his chest, fluttering against the ribs of its cage.  Juliette returned before long.  “I found some things.  I’m going to run a bath for you, Adam.  It’ll do you some good to have a soak.”
He nodded.  If nothing else, it would give him some solitude.  
“I’ll get the cuts on your back.  They probably need to be cleaned.”
When the bath was full, Adam wanted nothing more than to tell Gwynne to stay out.  Instead, he gritted his teeth and let her soap the lacerations across the otherwise smooth skin of his back.  It stung, but the stinging feeling grounded him, made him feel real again.  She sat by the tub as he washed himself.  He wished she would leave.  She told him about Juliette’s schemes, about the police officer who had told her about Adam’s head injury.  She mentioned Petros’s arm hanging from the stretcher.  Adam looked at her, “He was covered with a sheet?”
“Yeah.”
“Gwynne.  Is he dead?”
She looked at the door to the bathroom.  “I don’t know.  No one at the hospital would tell us anything.”
He looked at his stump.  He scanned the bruises on his legs.  Anything to not have to look at her.  He knew he was going to lose it.  He didn’t want to cry.  Not again.  Not now.  Not in front of her.  
She got up.  “We’ll wait for you.”
Adam just nodded.  When the door closed behind her, he sank into the tub, letting the pulsing sound of his heart in the water fill his ears.  When he couldn’t hold his breath any longer, he let it all out and surfaced.  He wanted to stay under forever.  There was a solitude in being underwater that couldn’t be matched above.  He hadn’t lied to Gwynne, at least not entirely.  The events of the last day were still hazy.  There were holes in his memory he couldn’t account for.  He didn’t try too hard to fill them, though.  The less he remembered about his time with Mozer, the better.  Adam soaped himself again, scrubbing until his skin was pink.  He would never be rid of the feeling of Mozer’s touch, the intensity of being violated so deeply and not being able to do a thing about it.  God, he hoped he hadn’t caught anything from the old man.  How many people had he done that to?  Maybe he’d get tested while he was at the hospital.  That seemed a million miles away.  It hurt to move.  He sank under the water one more time, just to let his brain stop for a moment.  He counted the pulses to twenty and came back up.  His seams were still bursting with all that had happened.  Some day he would get them sewn up.  Maybe some day he would feel normal again.  
For the first time since leaving home, he longed for routine.  How simple it was just to go to work and come home.  Not surrounded by people who didn’t speak his language.  Not in a city that he didn’t know his way around.  Just his own post at his own employer that he got to by way of his own car driving on the streets of his own town.  Why had he ever left?  His depression seemed so juvenile in comparison to the black knot somewhere below his heart.  And he had wished for it.  He had brought all of this upon himself.  He had taken the initiative to make the trip a reality.  How had this all happened?  It seemed a truly bizarre web of events.  If he hadn’t taken that camel.  If he hadn’t been in the same place as Petros.  If the dart had landed anywhere else on that map.  All of this would have been different.  
Adam thought about the dart behind the desk, the first one he had thrown.  Maybe that had been his true answer.  If he’d have taken that as a sign, a warning, instead of taking it as a reason to throw again, he could be…what?  Still at home?  Still living in the same daily depression?  He had to admit to himself, he wasn’t in the same funk anymore.  Things had, indeed, changed.  Maybe they hadn’t been for the better, but they were different.  And that was the point of this trip.  To shake things up.  To get out there and have a story to tell.  To make sure that he wouldn’t regret never doing anything exciting with his life.  
Above everything, he was ready to go home.  Once this bit with Petros and Mozer was resolved, he was content to pack himself and Gwynne on the first flight back to Chicago.  
Adam drained the tub and toweled off.  He put on Petros’s clothes.  They were a little too big for him, but they would be a huge improvement over running through the city stark nude.  Gwynne and Juliette were sitting at the dining room table chatting when he emerged.  
“Alright,” he said.  “How can we find out about Petros?”
They just stared at him.  He felt exposed.  “What?”
Gwynne cleared her throat.  “I didn’t expect you to come out so…ready.”
“The sooner we get done with all of this, the sooner we can go home.”
Juliette looked at the floor.
Adam started to think out loud.  “What about Papa Bear?  Wouldn’t he probably have an in at the hospital?  He knows doctors.  He should have some information.”
The girls looked at him.  He was getting tired of this.  “What?!”
“Adam,” said Gwynne.  “He’s dead.”
“Petros?”
Juliette looked away.
Gwynne shook her head.  “No.  At least, I hope not.”
“Le Ours?”
They nodded.  
“How?”
“When Mozer disappeared, we went back to the safe house, but it was completely engulfed in flames.  Mozer set it on fire.  Or so we were told.”
“What do you mean Mozer disappeared?”
Juliette looked up.  “The police rushed the mansion.  There was a huge gunfight.  Mozer disappeared in the middle of everything.”
“He’s still out there?!” Adam looked out the window, as if he would see the slimy man’s face peering in at him.
“Yeah,” Gwynne said, getting up and approaching Adam.  
He backed away from her.  “Oh.  God.  I might be sick.”  He rushed to the bathroom and dry heaved.  His stomach ached from the bruises, and his insides once again felt enflamed.
Gwynne rubbed his back, remembered his injuries, and pulled her hand away.  “Are you okay?”
“Fuck.  I don’t know.  What are we going to do?”
“I don’t know.”
“So, Mozer is gone and Le Ours is dead?”  Everything was going to crap in his mind.
Gwynne said, “Other Adam thinks it’s our fault.  He said if we hadn’t come, none of that would have happened.”
“Well, he’s right about that.  If we hadn’t come, everything would still be the way it was.  Except Petros would probably be in jail instead of…” he looked at Juliette and stopped.
He didn’t want to dwell on what might be the case.  “Okay.  So then we go to the hospital.  They haven’t met me yet.  Maybe I can say I’m Petros’s brother…or something.”
It wasn’t much of a plan, but they weren’t going to accomplish anything by standing around talking about it.  Juliette stood and went to the front door, which she’d picked up and propped across the entrance as best as she could before she’d gone to bed the night before.  She moved it to the side and let everyone through before propping it back up from outside.  It wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t an open invitation to come squat, either.  
They took a taxi again.  Thankfully, it wasn’t the same driver as either time before.  The less they were recognized, the less chance they had of being turned in by one of Mozer’s goons.  Adam couldn’t believe his captor was still out there.  Had he known that, he would have gladly stayed in the tub all day.  But he couldn’t just let his friend lay in the hospital.  Or…morgue.  They had to have closure about Petros, at least.  The rest could go to hell, as long as he could get away from the city and back to streets whose names he could pronounce.  
The cab let them out at the hospital, and they hurried inside.  At the front desk, Adam asked about their friend.
“We’re looking for Petros Tsoukalos.”
The woman at the desk looked at her computer screen.  She said something in French, and Juliette pushed her way to the front.  She started in on the lady, who was clearly embarrassed.  Adam wondered what she had said.  Clearly she hadn’t expected a French speaker to be in the group.  She adopted an apologetic tone, and Juliette said Petros’s name.  Adam just stood back and let Juliette do the talking.  The woman picked up her phone and Juliette turned.  
“What a bitch.  She had the gall to call you an arrogant American, and then she denies it to my face.  I just threatened to speak with someone in management and customer service, and I told her that I have a background in medical transcription and phone service and that I could replace her in a heartbeat.”
“I didn’t know you worked in medicine,” Gwynne said.
“I didn’t.  But she doesn’t have to know that.”
“So are we going to get to see him?”
“I don’t know yet.  She’s checking on him right now.  God, I hope he’s alright.”
The woman set down the phone and Adam braced for bad news.  Juliette asked her a question.  The woman nodded.
“He’s alive!”
“Thank God,” said Gwynne.
Adam was relieved.  If anyone might know where Mozer had gone off to, it would be Petros.  An orderly showed them to the elevators and rode to his floor.  It was a silent, awkward elevator ride.  Everyone was so happy they were giddy, but no one wanted to talk about it in the elevator.  The doors opened on a light green hallway.  The orderly took them down several hallways and past a nurses station where a man in a coat, scarf, and hat was talking angrily to the nurses on duty.  
Petros’s room was just beyond the nurse’s station.  The orderly opened the door and let them inside, then took his leave.  Juliette was the first to enter.  She shrieked, “Pet!  Oh, God.  You’re alive!  We saw you carried out on a stretcher and I thought maybe you were…”
Petros lay in a simple hospital bed in a pale blue shirt.  An IV was stuck in his arm, dripping a clear liquid through the hose and into his body.  He smiled weakly at them.  “Hey, guys.  You made it.”
“What happened to you?” Juliette asked.  
Petros lifted the shirt.  His abdomen was criss-crossed with bandages.  “You want to see what’s underneath?”
Gwynne shook her head.  “No.”
“He shot me.”
Adam felt a flare of anger.  “Mozer?”
“Yeah.  Shot me in mid sentence and left me to die in the basement.  Can you believe that?”
Adam nodded.
Petros looked at him.  “How did you get out?”
“The police found me, and…”
Juliette broke in, “We found him in your old flat, stark naked and raving in a corner.”
Petros looked from Juliette back to Adam.  “What did he do to you?”
Adam shook his head.  “I can’t remember.  I woke up all the way across town in a blanket, covered with lots of bruises.”
“That’s probably for the best.”  
It hurt him to lie to a friend who had been through trauma at the hands of the same man, but it didn’t hurt as much as speaking the truth about what he remembered.  No one could know about that.  It wasn’t important exactly what happened, or so he told himself.  Only that they were all okay, and they were here, together.
Juliette clapped her hands.  “I’m just glad we’re all here, and everyone is okay.”
Petros smiled.  “Relatively, anyway.”
Gwynne asked, “How long are they keeping you here?”
“Until I can stand on my own.  The muscles in my core were pretty badly damaged.  I can’t really start working on that until the scars from the surgery heal.  They’re not too bad, but just because of where the bullet was, they did a lot of work.”
“How long is that?” Juliette asked.
“Couple of weeks, probably.”  There was silence for a moment.  “God, it’s good to see you guys.”
Adam didn’t want to ruin the moment, but he had to ask.  “Petros, Mozer got away.”
“I know.  I heard.”
“How did you find out?”
“The police were here.”
Juliette quailed.  “Oh, Pet.  No.”
“Don’t worry.  I’m going to testify against him and get some kind of a deal on the whole thing.  They’re working with me, since I’m one of the few people they’ve been able to talk to about this.  I guess underlings have a way of disappearing before they can talk.”
Adam pressed forward.  “Where do you think he could have gone?”
Petros shrugged.  “He could be anywhere.”
“But is there any place you know of he could have escaped to?  A summer place?  A second apartment?  A secret hideout?”  Adam couldn’t stand to think that this man was out running around.  He needed closure.  He needed Mozer to be behind bars or under the ground, and he didn’t care which it was.  The thought that he could be anywhere, still pulling strings around the city, threatened to bring the blackness to the surface again and drown out the stability that collected on the surface like a shell.
“Adam.  I was just a lackey.  I did jobs for him, but I didn’t know anything.  I had no idea he had killed so many people until I was on the receiving end of an order.  I mean, the guy’s running a criminal ring that spans all of Paris.  Maybe more.  I don’t know where he is, but I’ll bet he’s lying low after his narrow escape.  Maybe Papa Bear might know where he is.”
Gwynne and Juliette looked at each other.  It was time to break the news.  Juliette took Petros’s hand.  “Love.  I don’t know how to tell you this.  Papa Bear is dead.”
“Dead?  How?”  
“Mozer firebombed his safe house shortly after he disappeared.  He died in the fire.”
Petros was silent for a moment.  He looked away from them.  “What a waste.”
Adam slammed his hand down on the bed’s railing, startling everyone.  “Damn it!  I can’t believe he got away!  I need to know where he is!”
There was an embarrassed silence.
Petros’s nurse stuck his head in the room in that silence.  “Petros, your father is here for you.”
“My father?”
Everyone looked at him, dumbstruck.  
“My father is dead,” said Petros to his nurse.  
There was a deafening crack and the side of the nurse’s head burst open, spattering them with bits of blood and tissue.  Screams filled the room and the area outside the room.  The nurse fell to the ground, and over his body stepped a man with a gun.
“Mozer!” said Adam and Petros simultaneously.
Juliette grabbed the vase of flowers on the nightstand and threw it as hard as she could at the man in the doorway.  The gun in his hand skittered into the corner of the room.  Mozer stepped forward, grabbed Gwynne by her hair, and flicked a knife out, pressing it against her throat.  “Nobody move.”
The world around him went still.  Blood spilled from the man on the floor in the doorway.  Gwynne let out a strangled cry.  
“Such a pretty girl,” purred Mozer.  “It’d be a shame if I ruined all this gorgeous skin.”
“Let her go,” Adam said.
Mozer turned to him.  “You.  Is she yours?  Is this the girlfriend?  And does she know?”  He tilted her head back and looked into her wide eyes.  “Do you know what your boyfriend and I shared?”
She just looked ahead, praying that she could have the next second.  Mozer chuckled and addressed Adam.  “Tell her.”
Adam clammed up.  
Petros interrupted.  “What do you want, Mozer?”
He turned on his former employee.  “You keep your moth shut.  You’re supposed to be dead.”  He looked back at Adam.  “What I want is for you to tell—what’s her name?”
No one answered.  
“WHAT’S HER NAME?  So help me, I’ll spill her blood.  Answer me when I ask a question!”
“Gwynne,” said Adam.  “Her name is Gwynne.”
Mozer smiled.  “All right, then.  Why don’t you tell Gwynne about our little…escapade.”
She glanced at Adam.  He couldn’t open his mouth.  
“TELL HER!” He pressed the knife against her throat.  
How could he even begin to explain the horror of what had happened to him in that room.  The words wouldn’t even form.  He couldn’t just tell her the details.  He didn’t even want to believe the details himself, let alone put them out there for everyone to hear.
“We’re waiting.”  
Adam looked at Gwynne.  “I’m sorry, Gwynne.  He…” he trailed off.
“What was that, boy?” Mozer asked.
“He abused me.”
Mozer laughed.  “Is that the best you can muster?  Come on, boy, where’s your passion?    Where’s your memory of the situation?  Where’s your vocabulary?!”
Adam lunged for the gun in the corner.  In one swift motion Mozer kicked his feet out from under him and stood on his back.  
“Bad move, Mr. Hudson.  One more of those and…” Adam heard Gwynne squeal in pain.  
“Let her go!” Juliette shrieked.  
Mozer ignored her.  “What Mr. Hudson isn’t telling you is that I know him quite intimately now.  Even, biblically.  And while the fight was still in him, he was quite good.  But alas, every spring chicken loses that spring at some point.  It was a valiant attempt from your boyfriend to resist, but I always get my way…in the end.  I hope you weren’t too sore, boy.  I’ve been known to leave a mark.”
Adam was humiliated, trapped under a booted foot.  He was content to lay on the floor for the rest of his life, especially after his secret was so descriptively revealed.  He felt as if his skin had been slit down the middle and he’d been flayed and laid out for everyone to gawk at.  He pushed back against the darkness that erupted from the cage inside him.  He had to stay in the moment.  Something had to be done.
Mozer turned to Petros, keeping a boot on Adam’s back, grinding his lacerations into a fiery mess of pain.  “And my dear Petros.  When you asked what I wanted, I assume you meant why I am here?”
No one spoke.  Petros tried not to notice Adam reaching for the gun in the corner.  It was just barely out of his arm span.  
“Well, I’m here because I have need of you…elsewhere.  Now.  Adam, if I were you, I wouldn’t touch that.”  He pushed Gwynne away and swooped down to take the gun.  Gwynne ran to the other corner of the room, heaving.  Even in this moment, if felt miraculous to be able to breathe freely again.  
Mozer pointed the gun at Adam’s head.  “For your insolence, Mr. Hudson, you can come with us.  And the rest of you.  No more heroics.  Do as I say or I will kill him.  I’ve already had my fill of him anyway.”
He let Adam up, keeping the gun aimed at his head.  “You.  Pull him away from the wall.”
Adam did as he was told.  
“Ladies, I want one of you on each side of the bed.  Don’t let anyone near it.  If they touch my dear Petros, Mr. Hudson dies.”
They flew to their positions.  Juliette looked at the IV in Petros’s arm.  “What about this?”
Mozer walked forward, stroked Juliette’s face, and grabbed the IV at its base, yanking it from Petros’s arm.  Petros screamed and grabbed at the open wound, clamping a hand over the blood that spilled from it already.  
“That will do.”
Petros gritted his teeth, wrapped the edge of the sheet around his arm to soak up the blood, and tried to kill Mozer with a glare. 
Mozer stepped into the hallway and fired a shot.  Screams filled the halls.  “Now.  Someone else will die if anyone moves a muscle.  And we wouldn’t want that.”
He directed them to pull the bed out of the room and wheel it down the hall.  Adam could feel the muzzle of the gun on the back of his head.  They pushed down the hallway, past patients and nurses who just stared, helpless.  Mozer punched the elevator down button.  While they waited, he went to the window.  
“Oh, good.  The police are here.”  He aimed his gun at the nearest staff member and fired.  Everyone flinched as blood spattered the light green walls.  “That’s for calling the police.”
The elevator doors opened, and they maneuvered the bed in.  It was a tight fit.  When the doors closed, Mozer instructed Juliette to push the button for the parking level.  She obliged.  He stood behind Adam, gun to his head, and snaked a hand around his belly.  Adam’s skin crawled, but he didn’t dare fight off a man who could kill so innocuously.  The hand descended to Adam’s crotch and squeezed.  Adam winced.  Mozer whispered in his ear, “Maybe we’ll have to recreate our time together when all this is over.”  
The doors opened and Mozer straightened.  Adam could feel a bulge in the man’s pants pressing against the back of him.  His throat burned with bile.  He moved forward into the parking garage.  The police hadn’t prepared for this eventuality, so there wasn’t a cop car in sight.  
A black SUV pulled up the ramp and stopped.  Two men got out and opened the tailgate.  They took Petros’s bed around back and lifted him into the way back of the vehicle.  He called out in pain as they jammed him into the car.  Juliette winced.  
Mozer counted the heads outside the car.  “Six.  Hm.”  He lifted his gun and shot one of his men in the face, another body crumpled onto the floor with a gory crater in his head.  Juliette threw up.  
The other man turned and looked at Mozer.  Mozer smiled.  The man turned and started running, but Mozer fired a single shot into his back.  The man fell.  Mozer turned to the three remaining passengers.  “I like a little space.”
He ushered the girls into the back of the car.  “You’re coming up front with me,” he said to Adam.  “I’m going to keep an eye on you.”
Adam got in the passenger seat.  Mozer went around the car and took his place at the wheel.  He looked in the rearview mirror.  “Everyone comfy?  Seatbelts!”  He clicked his into place.  They followed suit. 
Adam watched the rows of cars go by as they went up the ramps toward street level.  Where was he taking them?  Wherever it was, he hoped his death would be swift and painless.  He knew it wouldn’t be.  He met Gwynne’s eyes in the rearview mirror.  She looked at him, eyes full of tears, and shook her head.  He looked away.  After the revelation, he couldn’t bear to look at her for fear of seeing something on her face akin to the feelings he had about himself.
Mozer wound the car up the ramps toward daylight.  They could see the parking gate ahead.  People walked by the entrance on the sidewalk outside.  Free people.  People who weren’t worried about their next breath.  
The car bucked as Mozer gunned it for the entrance.  Toward the end of the lane, a delivery van backed into their path.  “Fucking shit!” Mozer said, slamming on his brakes and laying on the horn.  
The van stopped in the lane.  Mozer slammed his fists on the steering wheel and screamed something in French.  Adam looked in the rearview to see a limousine pulling up behind them.  They were blocked in.  He knew in a desperate situation Mozer would probably put a bullet in all of them and call it quits rather than be nabbed by the police and have them go free.  Adam was glad he was wearing his seatbelt when the car leapt backward, slamming into the hood of the limousine.  Mozer was crazy with rage as he reverse rammed the limo.  He threw open his door and leapt out, waving his gun in the air and screaming in French.  
Juliette turned in her seat.  “Are you okay back there, Pet?”
“I’m fine.  What’s going on?” Petros called from the back.  
“I don’t know.  This delivery van pulled out in front of us, and now a limo is blocking us in.”  Adam looked ahead.  
The delivery door on the back of the truck was open, and several boys had piled out.  They ducked as they ran toward the car, trying not to attract the attention of the madman with the gun.  They pulled the doors on the opposite side of the SUV open, shushing the riders and motioning for them to get out and follow.  Juliette slid out, followed by Gwynne.  Adam hopped down, and they all waited for a moment.  
“Come with us,” said one of the boys.
Adam thought he recognized him as one of Le Ours’s boys.  “What’s going on?”
“Shh.  Come with us.”
Juliette hissed, “Petros is still in there!”
“Hell have to wait.  Come on.”  
They reluctantly left their friend and followed the boy, going around the back of the truck and hopping in the delivery door.  Mozer was still screaming at the driver of the limousine.  Adam was shocked he hadn’t just shot the man already.  
Gwynne asked the boy who had rescued them, “Why are you helping us.”
“That bastard has done enough damage in the city for one life.”  
The driver of the delivery van pulled forward, through the empty space in front of the delivery van.  Mozer whipped around when he heard the engine start.  He raced to the SUV, saw the doors were open, and turned on them.  Gwynne slid the door down as he started firing.  The bullets dented the metal door but didn’t come through.
One of the boys explained, “It’s reinforced.  We figured that might happen.”
A battery operated lantern provided light for them as the truck hobbled its way out of the garage and onto the street.  Once the truck steadied and the gunfire stopped, they breathed a sigh of relief.  That relief was short lived, as the truck door lifted and Mozer pushed his way in.  Everyone froze.  
“What, no goodbye?” he quipped.
He pointed the gun at them and forced them all into the far front driver’s side corner.  “All together.”
Adam looked past Mozer to see the black SUV giving chase.  He squinted to make out the person behind the steering wheel.  It certainly wasn’t Petros.  Where had he gone?
Everyone was silent, watching the SUV approach the tail end of the truck.  It wasn’t going to be substantial enough to do any damage to the rear of the truck.  Mozer noticed everyone’s eyes looking past him and turned.  “Oh, good.  I’d hoped to finish this all at once.  How convenient that everyone is right here.”
He aimed the gun at the windshield of the SUV.  Adam rushed the man while his back was turned, shoving him as hard as he could.  Mozer toppled out the open door of the truck and caught himself on the bumper.  He collected himself and fired one shot at Adam.  Adam spun and fell to the floor of the truck, blood seeping through the shoulder of his shirt.  
Gwynne ran over and helped him get out of Mozer’s way.  The SUV rushed forward and rammed the back of the truck, crushing Mozer against the truck’s bumper.  He howled in pain.  When the SUV got close, they could see who the driver was.  
Juliette was shocked to see a dead man behind the wheel. “It’s the bear!”
The boy in the truck with them said, “Who do you think planned this?”
Gwynne looked up from tending to Adam.  “I thought he was dead.”
“Whatever gave you that idea?”
“One of the boys told us he died in the fire.”
They exchanged a puzzled look. “He’s very much alive.  And from the looks of it, he’s come to save you and your friend.”  
Petros had climbed over the back of the back seat and let himself into the passenger’s captain’s chair.  Adam looked up.  “Petros!”
Mozer contorted himself and fired at the SUV.  The vehicle swerved, steam erupting from under the hood.  Once free, Mozer turned and fired again.  The front driver’s side tire exploded and flew from the rim.  Sparks rose from the wheel as it ground against the road.  The armed man climbed back into the truck and readied his gun.  “This has gone on long enough.”  
The SUV revved just as the truck slowed.  They connected with a bang and a flash of sparks.  Mozer windmilled his arms and reached for anything he could grab.  His hands found nothing, and he fell from the back of the truck with a scream.  The SUV made a sickening crunch of his body.  
No one cheered.  Everyone was sitting in a relieved silence.  It was over.  Was it really over?  The van slowed and took a spot a few feet down the street.  The SUV stopped behind it, rim grinding down and steam billowing from under the hood.  Petros opened the door of the SUV and got out, steadying himself on the steaming hood.  Juliette jumped down and went to his side.  “Oh, Pet.  You’re okay.”
“Thanks for leaving me, you tragic thing.”
“Sorry for that.  Didn’t have much of a choice.”
Papa Bear heaved himself out of the driver’s seat and came around the front of the vehicle.  “We should go back, just to be sure.”
Juliette said, “I’m going to stay here with Petros.”  
Adam got up with Gwynne’s help and got down from the back of the truck.  He had lost a lot of blood and was feeling pretty woozy.  Papa Bear flipped his phone out from his pocket and dialed.  He got an ambulance on the way.
Their back from the dead benefactor and several of his boys followed Gwynne back down the street to where they had run over Mozer.  As they approached, they could see a trail of blood leading away from a bloody splotch on the road.  Gwynne hurried her pace.  “Shit.”
The blood trail disappeared a few feet away.
“No. No no no no no.”  She looked frantically around the street.  
Papa Bear was red with rage.  “JACKAL!”  
They started back to the truck.  Adam was standing in the middle of the street with his hands raised.  Petros stood next to him, blood obvious on the front of his clothing.  Juliette stood behind them.  She glanced down the street to where they were and shook her head.  
Gwynne ran from Le Ours and his boys toward her friends.  She got close enough to see Mozer standing, supporting himself on the end of the truck, blood covering his face and coloring his beard.  His gun was aimed at Petros.  She stopped.  He waved her into the group with his gun.  She joined them in the street.
“This ends now,” Mozer said, losing his gentlemanly facade.  “Turn around and kneel down.”
They did as they were told.  They all sat in a line, knowing that any moment would be the last they got.  Mozer’s footsteps foretold the coming of death.  A mighty roar tore through the air.  A gunshot.  A loud crunch.  They turned to see Mozer falling to the street.  Papa Bear stood behind him with a crowbar in his hand.  His boy stood behind him, looking horrified.  
The large man dropped the crowbar and crumpled to the street, hands coming to his neck.  Blood poured from the gunshot wound and onto the pavement.  The boys rushed forward, gathering around him.  They worked to roll him over, hoping to be able to get to his neck to stop the flow of blood.  His breath gurgled.  He was drowning.  They flipped him over, finally, and the mess was tremendous.  The sound of sirens approaching filled the air until it drowned out the sobs of the boys.
The paramedics leapt out of the ambulance and went to work on the large man.  Adam sat in the street with Gwynne, who kept pressure on the wound.  After several minutes, they declared him dead, covered him with a sheet, and gave their attention to Adam.  Reinforcements arrived a few minutes later, loaded the large man in the ambulance, and took off.  Two of the boys rode along with him.
Police arrived to the scene in the interim, took statements from everyone and called for more police at the scene.  They roped the scene off and took Gwynne and Juliette away with them.  An ambulance took Adam and Petros back to the hospital.  Petros had ruptured his stitched and was raced back to surgery.  Adam had a surgeon remove the bullet from his shoulder and patch him up.  They asked him about his bruising, and he told them a barebones version what had happened to him in captivity.  

The group was fragmented once again, but without the threat of Mozer’s retaliation hanging over their heads, things weren’t as urgent.  

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OUT