Footsteps roused Adam from his dreamless sleep. He peered into the dark of his room, just able to make out a figure standing between him and the door. “Who’s there?”
“It’s just Paul.”
“Who the hell is Paul?”
“Oh. I’m one of the house boys. We’re ready to go now.”
“It’s the middle of the night. What time even is it?” He peered around the room. No digital clocks.
“We’ve got to go. It’s best if we disappear in the middle of the night. That way no one can follow us.”
“What about our stuff?”
“There’s a change of clothes in the closet. Get dressed. The others are waiting.”
After Paul left the room, Adam got out of bed and dressed. Paul was waiting in the hallway with Juliette and Gwynne.
“Where’s Petros?” asked Juliette.
Paul whispered, “He’s already in the car. Come on. Follow me.”
He led them out the front door and down the steps, where a black car was waiting. A light snow was falling, making everything especially beautiful. The car wasn’t the limousine they had ridden in earlier. Adam wondered where this stable of cars was kept, since he hadn’t seen a garage on the premises. Juliette and Gwynne got in the car. Adam had time to hear Juliette ask, “Where is he?” before he was bludgeoned in the back of the head and the streetlights dimmed to complete darkness.
He woke up in darkness with no idea how much time had passed. He could hear the car engine and Juliette’s voice nearby. “You let us go right now and I won’t kick your fucking arse when this is all over.”
Adam tried to sit up, but he was bound, legs together with his one good arm tied to that with a short lead. He reached out with his left arm. He felt a cold metal frame. “The trunk,” he thought. “They stuffed me in the fucking trunk.”
His head ached from the blow, but he pushed it away and tried to think. Normally, trunks had an access from the interior of the car. Some even had pull tabs dangling for emergencies like this. He rolled over, coming to rest on what felt like a crowbar. There was a small, glowing piece of plastic just in front of him. Whoever thought to make it glow-in-the-dark had to have spent some time in a trunk once upon a time.
He couldn’t grab it with his free arm. He tried to sit up. Grabbing it with his mouth was the only way he could hope to open it. Adam rolled on his side, put his forearm against the rough carpet in the trunk and shoved himself up. The handle was maddeningly close but still too far away. He tried to maneuver his bound limbs to give him just a little more leverage. Just another inch or two and he could pull it. He squirmed as close as he could and made one more attempt. His mouth closed over the safety handle, and he let his weight fall back. Just then the car hit a bump and the pull was jerked from his mouth. Sharp pain shot through his gums. He was almost certain he’d pulled a tooth loose. He ran his tongue around his mouth. Nothing seemed to be out of place.
“What the hell was that?”
The car slowed to a stop. He heard a door slam. He lay still. The trunk popped open, and Adam tried to look unconscious.
“Hey! Hey! Get back in there!”
Adam heard footsteps heading away from the car. There were two gunshots. He heard Gwynne scream.
“Gwynne!” he shouted.
The man returned to the trunk. Adam said, “You better hope to god that that shot missed, or I’m gonna—“
The man smacked Adam with the butt of his gun again, and blackness swallowed him once more.
Petros was awakened by frantic knocking on Papa Bear’s door. He rolled from bed, looking at his watch on the night table. 4:03. The huge ball of warmth next to him stirred. “What is it?” he mumbled.
“I don’t know. I’ll go see.”
“Mmm.” He rolled over and was silent.
Petros tore the door open. “What?!”
One of the house boys flinched. “Umm…it’s your friends.”
“What about them?” Petros craned his neck to look over the boy’s shoulder and down the hallway. Nothing seemed amiss.
“What?!” Petros pushed past him. He called back into the bear’s lair. “They’re gone! He says they’re gone!”
“What?!” There was a creak and a thump, and Papa Bear burst from the room, tying a robe around himself.
Petros rushed ahead, tearing down the stairs and back toward the guest chambers. The boy rushed along after him. “I don’t know. I saw their doors were open and I looked in on them, and…they weren’t there.”
“Shit. Shitshitshitshitshit.” He looked in Adam’s room first. The change of clothes was gone. Same in Juliette and Gwynne’s room. “Where the hell could they have gone?”
Papa Bear roared behind him. “You told them to stay here!”
“Yes! I made it explicitly clear that they weren’t to leave.”
“Check the doors!” he bellowed. “Check the windows. I want everyone up and every inch of this house searched!”
Groggy voices emerged from every area of the house. Soon, a frantic search was underway. There didn’t seem to be anything amiss, aside from the three missing people. “Check the attic! Check the basement!” the bear shouted.
His boys scurried off into the darkest corners of the house. One by one, they returned with nothing to report. Finally, Other Adam returned, carrying a shard of broken glass in his pale hand. “I found this in the attic. It looks like one of the windows got broken last night.”
“I’ll have that Jackal’s head!” Papa Bear pounded on the nearby countertop, upsetting two glasses and a skinny vase of flowers. The boys rushed to right them.
“You think they were taken?” Petros asked. “I didn’t see any signs of struggle.”
Papa Bear stroked his chin. “No. He’s too crafty for that. Someone would have heard a struggle.”
He strode to the front door and tore it open. He could see footsteps in the snow, leading down to tire tracks. He lumbered down the steps and sniffed the air. Shaking his great head, he walked back to the door. “They’re gone.”
“What? Where?” said Petros.
“Mozer.” The name that hardly ever crossed his lips made the journey covered with a dripping hate.
“What do we do?”
Petros blanched. “Wait?! But they could be in danger!”
“Because he wants you. Alive. They’re bait. They’re no good to you if they are dead.”
“Even he can’t help you now.” Le Ours led the way back inside, looking once at the snow falling on the deserted street before closing the door.
Adam’s head throbbed. He had a vague memory of a dream. In that dream, he’d been in a car. Someone had been shot. “Gwynne!” he said, snapping to consciousness.
His head snapped back. The light bored into his brain. He screwed his eyes shut. “Oh…God.”
“He can’t help you here,” said a voice.
Adam could tell he was smiling from the sound of it. He cracked his eyes, letting a little light in at a time until he could see his surroundings. The throbbing in his head didn’t let up, but he tried his best to ignore it. He was sitting in a white wooden chair, tied upright, naked. Why was he naked?
The wall in front of him was paneled, white wainscoting with red floral wallpaper above it. It looked rich. The rich brown curtains on the window were drawn. There was a strain of classical music drifting in from somewhere. He turned his head. The rest of the room was similarly decorated. Everything looked opulent and a tad gaudy. Where had the voice come from?
He looked the other way. A hand on the back of his neck made him stop. His chair spun around, and he was staring face to face with a man. Grey beard fading in places to white. Charcoal suit. Long black coat. White shirt. Charcoal bow tie. Before he even thought about it, he knew who this man was. Mozer. He looked every bit as despicable as Adam had imagined. A cold fear gripped the spot where Mozer’s hand touched him. It spread outward into his limbs. He felt it in his missing hand, wherever it was.
“Where is Gwynne?”
Mozer smiled. “Funny. I was about to ask you the same question. But first, introductions. You must be Adam.”
Adam stared through him.
“Very well. I’m Mozer. I’m sure our mutual friend Petros has told you plenty about me.”
“Oh, I know who you are.”
“Do you? Now, now, Mr. Hudson. Don’t believe everything you hear, just because someone you think is your friend said it.”
“You can save your mind games, Mozer. Just tell me where Gwynne is.”
“I told you already. I don’t know. Pity, too. She’ll probably need medical attention soon, from what I hear. It’s a good thing I know people in healthcare around this city.” He chuckled. “I only hope the fat one is with her.”
“If you hurt either of them…I’ll—“
“You’ll what? I hardly think you’re in a place to make threats, now are you?” Mozer approached Adam and reached a hand out. Adam flinched. “Relax, my dear boy. I’m not going to hurt you. No, no. I’d hate to ruin an inch of that. Perfect. Body.”
Adam’s skin crawled with Mozer’s words whispered into his ear. He lashed out with his left arm. Mozer caught it fast in his hand.
“Ah. We have a fighter. Good. I love a fighter.” He squeezed Adam’s forearm, slid his hand up to the bicep, squeezed, ran two fingers under his armpit, and brought them to his nose. He sniffed his fingers and closed his eyes. “Mmmm. God, how I love the smell of youth.”
Adam wrenched his arm back.
“Tell me, boy, how did you lose that hand?”
Adam looked at the floor. He was still trying to brush Mozer’s touch from his skin.
“Still not talking? Pity. You’re going to make a poor dinner guest. I’d hoped you might be a little more open to my…hospitality.”
“If I could get out of this chair, I’d send you to the fucking hospital, you sick old fuck.”
“Ah. I still might find my way there eventually. I’d like to pluck your friends up personally. But first.” He paused.
Adam looked up. Mozer cracked his knuckles. Adam knew he was about to regret this turn of events.
Juliette huffed. “Stop. Gwynne. We have to stop.”
Gwynne jogged back. “There’s no time to stop! You saw those goons.”
“I can’t…run…anymore,” she said.
“Guh. Fine. We’ll rest. Five minutes, though.”
“But they’re gone. We haven’t seen them in blocks and blocks. Besides, look at you!”
“I’m fine.” said Gwynne, peeling the bloody shirt away from her arm. “He just nicked me.”
Juliette took her head scarf off. She tied it around Gwynne’s arm above the bullet hole. “Here. At least tie it off. I don’t want to lug your body to the hospital.”
“Hospital? We’re not going to the hospital.”
“Like hell we’re not. You’ve got to get some treatment!”
“Yeah, and where do you expect the crazy men will be waiting for a girl they put a bullet in?”
“Right. The hospital.”
“Then where the hell are we going?”
“We’re going back. We’ve got to tell Petros about this!”
“And you don’t think they’ll be waiting there for us, as well?”
Gwynne sat with Juliette in the entryway of an apartment flat on the dark street. “Well, that’s a risk I’m willing to take.”
“Listen to you. One bloody bullet hole and you’re sounding like Dirty Harry.”
Gwynne laughed. It was probably the blood loss making her lightheaded, but she felt a bond with Juliette she hadn’t felt before. She leaned against Juliette and closed her eyes. What the hell were they going to do? Adam was still with those people, and even though she assumed they were Mozer’s men, she had no idea where they’d taken him. Hopefully, Petros would know. She didn’t trust him, and she didn’t like him, but she was going to have to put that behind her because she needed his help now more than ever.
“Alright. Ten minutes is up.” Gwynne hauled herself to her feet and pulled Juliette up. The sun was peeking over the horizon. Paris was bathed in a morning golden hour light. The whole seen would have been breathtaking if her arm wasn’t throbbing like a son of a bitch. “Let’s go.”
They left the entryway. “I assume you know the way from here.” Gwynne said.
“I think I can manage it.” Juliette started them on their way down back streets and shadowed passageways. It was slow going, trying to keep to the darker areas of the street. Gwynne had no idea where they were. Her knowledge of Paris was limited to the tourist areas she’d already seen and the inside of Le Ours boys’ home.
After almost an hour of travel, they hadn’t seen anyone resembling the gun-toting thugs that had chased them into the city. They slowed to a more manageable pace, and in another half hour Juliette turned them onto the street occupied by the great bear’s den. “Ta-da!”
“You’re a saint.” Gwynne held her arm. It was hurting more and more as they traveled.
They scurried down the sidewalk toward the front door. A black car screeched up to the front door. They ducked behind a light pole and a trash can, hoping they weren’t seen. Gwynne peeked out from the light pole and saw the car’s driver side window roll down. A brick came flying from the front window and through the large plate window in the front of the building. The car drove silently away, passing their hiding place as it went. When it was gone, Juliette and Gwynne ran to the front door and knocked.
No one answered. Juliette battered the door with her large fist. “Someone let us in! Petros! Are you in there?”
Petros stuck his head out of an upstairs window. “Juliette? Oh my God! What are you doing here?”
Gwynne snarled, “Just let us in! Do you want us to get killed?”
Petros disappeared. In a few moments, Petros appeared at the door. “I’m sorry. Come in.”
They didn’t have to wait to be told. The street felt so exposed in the morning light. “We just saw a black car throw a brick through the front window.”
Petros nodded. “Yeah. They’ve got Adam. They want me to come to Mozer’s place by the end of the day. Or else.”
Gwynne grabbed his arm. “Or else what?!”
He looked her over. “You’re covered in blood! What happened?”
“Oh. One of those guys shot at us.”
“One of what guys?”
They told Petros the story of the man in the night. Then they repeated it for Papa Bear while one of the boys bandaged Gwynne’s arm. He nodded gravely at the telling. “So it’s come to this, then?”
Petros stood. “Well, I have to go. I have to answer for this.”
Papa Bear growled. “I don’t like this. It’s not the way it was supposed to be. The Jackal is a greedy man, but he isn’t a murderer.”
Gwynne interrupted. “Well, he clearly has changed since you last saw him.”
“I suppose he has.”
Juliette sat on the couch staring at the floor. “I don’t want you to go, Pet.”
“I have to, Juliette. I got our friend into this whole mess. Adam is in danger. And now Gwynne is shot. This can’t go on any longer.”
“Then I’m going with you,” she said, sitting upright.
“No,” Petros said.
Papa Bear joined him. “Absolutely not. The last thing we need is more lives put in danger. You shall stay here. I have hired a private guard.”
“Where were they when we were at the door?” Gwynne asked.
“You don’t see them. That’s because you are not supposed to see them.” The large man smiled.
Gwynne felt cold. She swayed. Petros caught her. “Papa Bear, we’ve got to get the doctor back here.”
“He is on his way. I called him already.”
“You’re a godsend.”
“I am many things to many people. I only try to live life the way I feel it should be lived, and to treat people like I would have been treated.”
“So what are you going to do?” Juliette asked.
“I have to go. I have to face Mozer. This has gone on too long, and there are too many people tied up in all of this. He wants me. He’s going to get me.”
“God, Pet. Who are you?”
He looked at Juliette. Papa Bear chuckled. “I don’t even know anymore.”
They drafted plans. Papa Bear would provide transportation. The Jackal’s hideout was on the opposite side of town, in the Eastern most section of Paris. They wouldn’t wait. Who knows what could be happening to Adam as they discussed his rescue? Petros would be dropped off in front of Mozer’s mansion, and he would go in alone. After that, Le Ours’s eyes would watch the house, waiting for someone to come out. When any of them saw something, they would radio the driver, who would be waiting nearby. Hopefully, Adam would be saved and Petros could stall long enough for the plan to roll into action.
“And if you can’t?” asked Juliette.
“Well, I’m willing to accept that.”
No one wanted to elaborate on what that might mean for him.
Papa Bear would call his contact at the police station and provide the necessary evidence for the police to finally pick Mozer up and put him away. It could mean the end of a way of life for both men, but Papa Bear was willing to sacrifice if it meant the end of the hideous Jackal. They just hoped to get there before anything happened to Adam.