Adam lay in a dark room in the mansion, shivering, despite his warm surroundings. His skin was beginning to bruise where he had been beaten. He curled into a ball, holding his legs to his body with his good arm. His other arm was wrapped across his naked torso.
He had expected that what was coming was unpleasant. He hadn’t known the extent to which he would feel violated. Mozer had beaten him almost to unconsciousness with the precision of a master torturer. He had relished his prey’s screams as fingers were broken, lashes landed across beautifully unblemished flesh, and, finally, he got his way with his prey. Drained of the will to fight back, he fed his depraved desires.
Adam had hovered on the brink of consciousness, trying hard to be anywhere but where his captor’s hands roamed, wishing he could do something to stop what was happening, but knowing he was powerless, strapped to the bits of chair that had finally splintered at the force of his blows. Resisting had only caused him more pain.
His insides felt like they were on fire, lying on the bed after the horrific treatment. His fingers throbbed. His back and sides bled from lacerations. But inside his head, the darkness bloomed into a monster that threatened to consume him. If he ever got out of that room, he was going to make Mozer pay for taking everything from him. He didn’t know how he would ever make that a reality. For the moment, he lay in a ball, trying to push back the darkness.
The door top his room opened. He held himself close, trying to disappear into the bed. “Now, then. Don’t be so dramatic.”
Mozer’s voice brought him back to the moment, the grunts of thrown fists turning into grunts of passion. Adam just turned inward and tried to ignore it.
“Tell me it wasn’t all bad.” He ran a finger down Adam’s exposed side. Adam flinched.
“You ARE a frightened little puppy, now aren’t you?”
“Fuck. You.” Adam said into the bed. He didn’t want to see the man’s face.
“Now now. No need for that. You certainly were a fighter. And I love the thrill of a fight. But, alas, I seem to have broken another toy. Playtime has always been too hard on them.”
A rage grew in Adam’s chest, consuming the darkness as fuel and exploding like a gas leak. “I’ll kill you,” he growled.
“That wouldn’t be sporting of you. I do love a struggle, but please, as you said, I’m a sick old man. I’m not quite ready for another round. At least not yet.” He laughed.
Adam shuddered. He couldn’t stand another round of horror. He had to do something. He coiled, waiting for the right moment to spring on his captor.
A bell sounded from inside the mansion. “Oh, excuse me, Mr. Hudson. I have to attend to this. But don’t worry. I’ll be back.”
He closed the door before Adam could find the will to get up. In his mind, he’d tackled the old man, bashed his head against the floor until it was a gray and red pulp, and spit on his corpse. In reality, he lay curled in a ball, trying not to notice the wetness that spread underneath him.
Mozer’s footsteps were swallowed by the thick carpet throughout the mansion. Adam lay in the room, praying to whatever god would listen, asking for revenge, swift and terrible.
Petros shivered in the chill wind. He waited at the top of the stairs in front of the huge red and gold door until a servant opened it for him. Warmth rolled out of the opening. “Do come in. The master is expecting you.
“Thank you.” Petros unwound his scarf and draped it over one arm.
The servant took it from him along with his coat, disappearing into a side room with no trace that he knew the fate of the man whose coat he took. Strains of classical music floated in from a nearby room. He remembered his first time in this mansion, just a young man in need of employment. He felt honored to be working for such a wealthy man, never wondering how he came by such wealth. At least not at first. When the nature of his employment was revealed, it sounded like crime. He asked, and Mozer laughed. “I don’t send my employees into any situation I wouldn’t go into myself. And you’ll always be prepared. Don’t worry about a thing, love.”
And that was the end of the conversation. Petros completed his jobs on time and without attracting undue attention, and Mozer kept the money coming. Were there times that Petros felt unsure of what he was doing? Sure. Were there times he knew without a doubt that he was “liberating” property from people who had earned it, and that it was wrong. Yes. But the thing about routine is that it deadens reactions. And money makes a great moral band-aid. Besides, no one was getting hurt. At least not until recently.
He wasn’t sure when the turn had happened. Petros now expected it might have been going on behind the scenes all along. He was oblivious for years. It was just a theft ring. Just pickpocketing, breaking and entering, stealing, and selling. And he was good at it. After a few rough breaks, a coldness broke through the way Mozer talked to him. Their relationship became not mentor and protege, but boss and employee. Even when it seemed like friendship, it was nothing like his friendship with Papa Bear. He wasn’t taken care of. The touch between them wasn’t warm and affectionate. It had become sexual, on occasion, but never to the point of Petros really giving in. Mozer treated those around him like subordinates, and Petros didn’t want to have sex with someone who would treat him like that. In the presence of Le Ours, he knew he was a subordinate, but he was never treated like one.
Mozer’s violent streak seemed a natural extension of the coldness Petros felt behind the man’s touch, lying in wait, coiled inside his steel blue irises. Considering the past from what he thought of as a more enlightened future, he could see instances where other employees just stopped showing up. Mozer always explained them away. They were arrested. They moved off to another country. They got jobs with various other organizations around town. But Petros never saw them again. And now he stood in the foyer of Mozer’s mansion, about to find out what happened to those men who defied their superior, got sloppy, and drew too much attention to themselves.
“Ah. Petros. So you’ve come.” Mozer descended the staircase, dressed once more in his charcoal suit, sans coat.
“Hello, Mozer. Where’s Adam?”
“Oh, Mr. Hudson is resting at the moment. He’s had a rough morning.”
Petros didn’t like the way he said “rough,” and he feared for Adam’s safety.
“Your eyes give you away, my Pet.” He stood in front of Petros and put one hand on each shoulder. “Don’t worry. He’s fine. But it certainly was a first for him. You would have been lucky to be the one.”
Anger flared Petros’s nostrils. “You didn’t.”
“Oh, but I did. And it was glorious. He was quite the fighter. At least…at first. But his spirit seemed broken by the time I was finished. Pity, too. He is an exquisite specimen of a man. And a friend of yours.”
“I’m here. Now let him go.”
Mozer chuckled. “Oh, my dear Petros.”
“LET. HIM. GO.”
“Oh, I don’t intend to keep him around here forever. But he couldn’t leave in his current state. Besides, he’d be stopped on the street for sure if I let him out now. I mean, I don’t mind seeing a young man’s flesh, but in this prudish town, he’d be snatched up in no time.”
“Mozer. We had a deal. I come here. You leave my friends out of it.”
“Yes. We had a deal. You do your job. You get paid. And now,” the sporting humor drained from his face and was replaced with a look Petros hadn’t seen on him before. “Now, I’ve got police at my back door. They’ve traced whatever it was that you botched back here. To my mansion. My safe house. I’ve had to go through considerable expense just to keep them at bay. Not that they’ve got enough to go on. They’d need someone to testify against me. And really. In this city? All my enemies seem to…vanish.”
Two man in black coats emerged from the door at the end of the hall. Petros stared them down. He knew their names. He knew their faces. But he might as well have been a beggar off the street to them. They knew who signed their paychecks. Nothing else.
“I’ll see you soon, Mr. Tsoukalos,” Mozer said. “I have to take care of some…business.”
The taller thug grabbed Petros by the hair. The wider one stared him in the eyes before knocking him unconscious with a short baton. His last thought was of Papa Bear. He hoped his benefactor would come through before it was too late.
Juliette opened the window in the room she shared with Gwynne. “What are you doing?” asked Gwynne, who was drying her hair after a soak in the hot tub.
“I’m getting the hell out of here.”
“But we’re supposed to stay put. Le Ours said he was going to take care of things.”
“Psh. Right. And my best friend walks into the Jackal’s den unarmed and gives himself over to the whims of that bastard.”
“But Juliette…we don’t even know where the Jackal lives!”
“And you do?” Gwynne wrapped the towel around her hair, piling it on top of her head.
“Petros took me by it once upon a time, just a detour on the way to dinner once.”
“What the hell are you going to do when you get there?”
“I don’t know, but it beats sitting here waiting.”
“Don’t you care about what’s happening to Adam?” Juliette looked out the open window at the street.
“Of course I do! But I’m not going to go rushing into some madman’s headquarters to save him when there’s a perfectly good plan in place. Besides, with Petros turning himself in, Adam will be free to go.”
Juliette laughed. “Sweet Christ, woman. You’re that naive? Mozer is a fucking madman. You can’t tell me you’ve never seen this movie. The hero turns himself in. And…the madman just says, ‘Alright. You can go.’?!”
Gwynne paused to unwrap the bandage from her arm, dress the wound, and rewrap it. She winced through the process. The doctor had taken the bullet out when he’d arrived. She hadn’t felt it then, since the local anesthetic shot had made her arm dead to pain. Now, though, her feeling was definitely back. “I guess you’re right.”
“Of course I’m fucking right!”
Gwynne unwrapped her hair. “So…?”
“So get dressed, woman. The taxi will be here any minute. Let’s go get our men!”
“I’m going to regret this, I’m sure.”
“Well, regret it on the road. I told them to pick us up down the block.”
Juliette squeezed out the window, dropping into the shrubbery right underneath. “Oh. Jesus fuck! I thought they were supposed to break a fall, not stab you with thirty branches!”
Gwynne leapt clear of the bushes and rolled.
“Oh, sure. Action fucking hero extraordinaire gets out without a scratch.”
“Come on. I think that’s the taxi.”
They hustled down the street before one of the house boys could see them leaving. Gwynne’s stomach was in knots. She dreaded the thought of being at the receiving end of a bullet again. Her arm ached as they ran. Juliette piled into the cab, scooting across the back seat so Gwynne could join her. She gave the driver the address, and they hunkered down for the trip across the city, unsure of what they would do when they got there.
“There has to be a way in,” Juliette said.
“Well, yeah. I’m sure there’s a front door.”
“You know what I mean. Maybe there’s a window we can get into.”
“But you know Mozer’s men have guns, and they’re not afraid to use them.”
“Right. But we have the element of surprise.” Juliette’s eyes glimmered.
Gwynne wondered how she could be so optimistic about such a half-hearted, patchwork plan. “Juliette. Before we go in there, I just want to say something. This isn’t the movies. These are real criminals with real head counts under their belts. They’ve made people more important than us disappear. Don’t think that we couldn’t die in there.”
Juliette took a deep breath. “Look. I know the reality of the situation. I know what could happen. But my best friend is in there, and if I can’t risk my life trying to save my best friend, then what good is it? Petros has been my everything. I wouldn’t want to live without him anyway. And you can’t tell me you don’t feel the same about Adam.”
Gwynne thought about it. Did she feel the same way about Adam? Would she die for him? She certainly didn’t want to be confronted with the choice. “God. What are we doing?”
“We’re doing what they’d have done for us, were our roles reversed.”
Gwynne had no doubt that that was true. The taxi pulled up in front of a huge mansion, not unlike the building that Le Ours was in. This building, however, was set back from the street on a massive front lawn. The fence alone would be difficult to scale. Past that, though, was a large lawn with topiary and fountains. If they got through all of that, Gwynne was certain there were armed guards watching from at least one of the many windows that looked out onto the lawn. She put her hand to her forehead. “How the hell are we going to…”
Juliette prodded the cab driver. “Go around the back, please.”
He put the car in gear and took them around to the back of the house. They got out and walked to the back of the building. It was unfenced. Two men stood at either end of the delivery drive. There was no doubt that they were trained to react with lethal force, should anyone try to force their way in.
The girls peered into the drive. “What do we do now?” asked Gwynne.
Juliette thought for a moment. She stood and said to Gwynne, “Follow my lead.”
Gwynne followed her as she left cover and approached the closest of the guards with an exaggerated swivel in her hips. Juliette was going to get shot. Gwynne knew it. “Hey there, uniform man.”
The man turned to face her, putting one hand on his belt inside his black coat. “I’d suggest you leave this place.”
“Can’t you take a minute to help a lady in distress?”
Gwynne tossed her hair. “We’re like, lost.”
“Are you American?” the guard asked, eyeing her up and down.
“Like, totally. I’m from California, and I’m visiting my friend Colby, here. We were trying to find this really great bistro, but, Paris is hard!”
“Could you tell us where to find the French Baguette?”
“French Baguette? Never heard of it.” His hand never left his belt. Gwynne craned her neck to see inside his coat, but he turned to block her eye. She didn’t need to see inside to know there was a gun in there somewhere.
Juliette turned on her charm. “Well, does your handsome friend there know where it might be. Maybe he could take us there?”
The guard frowned. “Look. We are not allowed to leave our posts. I do not know where this place is.”
Gwynne leaned in and tried to look helpless. “But we’re so lost. And you wouldn’t turn two helpless girls into the street, would you? I mean, like, come on. You would be my hero.”
The guard looked at the house behind him. “Carlos. Come over here.”
The other guard turned, saw the two girls, and came jogging over, hand also in his coat.
Gwynne took the lead. “Oh my gosh. You’re like, so handsome.”
Carlos looked her over. “American’s, Dmitri?”
“They are lost.”
Juliette smiled and walked in between the guards. “Do you know where we could find the Petit Baguette?”
Dmitri looked at her. “You mean French Baguette?” His eyes narrowed.
“Right. Oh my god. How stupid of me. You two would be my heroes if you could help us find it,” she said, putting a hand on each of their shoulders.
Carlos smiled and leaned in. Dmitri looked at him. Carlos nodded almost imperceptibly. Juliette and Gwynne locked eyes for a moment. This was either going to be a lucky break or the end of their rescue mission.
Carlos leered at the girls. “Of course. The French Baguette. It’s right over here! Follow us.”
Juliette and Gwynne fell into step behind the two men. Gwynne looked at Juliette. “What now?” she mouthed.
Juliette just smiled. The boys led them down a walkway that looked sketchy. Juliette waved Gwynne back and stepped toward the men. Swift as a kung fu hero, she put a hand on each of the men’s heads and knocked them together as hard as she could.
“Ow!” cried Carlos.
Juliette looked at Gwynne. “RUN!”
The girls took off, rounding any corner they came to so they could cut off the straight path between themselves and the barrel of a gun. They could hear the men’s footsteps behind them. Running down an alley, they emerged onto a busy street. They slowed to a quick walk to blend in, and Juliette yanked Gwynne inside a drug store. She ducked down several aisles until they were out of eyeshot of the the windows.
“What the hell was that?” hissed Gwynne.
“I don’t know! I thought it would work. It always works in the movies!”
“God damn it, Juliette! This isn’t the movies! We could have been killed!”
“Alright. Alright. I’ll admit it wasn’t one of my better plans. But what did you want me to do? They were leading us off to…who knows what?”
When they had caught their breath, Gwynne asked, “What now?”
“We have to go back.”
“And do WHAT?!”
“I guess we could try scaling the fence.”
“No way. They’re going to be expecting us. One bullet per vacation is enough for me.”
“Well we can’t just stay here browsing energy drinks until they’ve killed Adam and Petros.”
“What about the police?” Gwynne thought again about the evidence against the Jackal that Le Ours had said he had.
“You want us to waltz into the police station and tell them where to find my best friend? The one they were hunting all over town, if you recall?”
Gwynne threw her hands up. “Look. Would you rather have them arrested or dead?”
Juliette deflated. “I suppose you’re right. God. And I thought we would save the day.”
“Well, like I said, we’re not in the movies. Best to leave the life-saving to the professionals. Now. Let’s go find the police.”
A police car with lights blazing and siren wailing passed the front of the drug store. Five seconds later, another passed, followed by a third. They stepped out of the drug store after checking the street to make sure their pursuers weren’t waiting for them. When it was clear they weren’t immediately in danger, they started in the direction of the sirens. Police cars flew down every street toward the mansion. Before they knew it, they were running back to Carlos and Dmitri’s territory.
The mansion was aglow in flashing red lights. Police cars parked every few feet disgorged officers who, using their doors as shields, flanked the building with guns. The girls ran around the side of the mansion. The front lawn was a parking lot for the Paris Police. They had apparently bashed down the front gate with a huge armored truck, and from the side of the big black box of a vehicle, a man emerged with a megaphone.
“Patrick Mozer. We know you’re in there. Return your hostages unharmed and at once.”
Juliette looked at Gwynne. “Whoa. That must have been some evidence!”