Petros awoke to the faint sound of sirens. He was in a small room in the basement with brick walls and a heavy metal door. Who built a mansion with a dungeon? A voice mumbled from outside. Something from a megaphone. The police were here!
Petros stood, letting the world stop its quivering dance before trying to walk. He approached the windowless door and shoved. Nothing. And there wasn’t even an handle on the inside. He banged on the door with the palm of his hand and waited. Nothing. He sat back down and waited. He hoped Adam was okay. Petros felt terrible for having gotten his friend mixed up in his feud. From what Mozer said, it hadn’t been a pleasant experience.
The door latch squealed as the door swung outward. Mozer stepped in and shut the door behind him. Petros swallowed hard. “Well. It seems your time has come early. I was really hoping to finally get you alone.”
“Mozer. Come on. You don’t have to kill me. Do you want the blood of one more man on your hands when the police find you?”
“Oh.” Mozer sighed. “What’s the blood of one more man?”
Petros opened his mouth, but his words were cut short by a flashbang of muzzle. He collapsed onto the floor. Mozer turned, left the room, and shut the door behind him.
Adam heard the police coming close, surrounding the house, and issuing threats from their megaphone. He lay curled in a small ball on top of the bed. The room was cold. He shivered on top of the blankets, which had become damp underneath him. They would find him here. They would ask him what happened. He didn’t want to tell them. They didn’t need to know. This was all a misunderstanding. A dream. He would wake up in his bed next to Gwynne. No. Alone. He couldn’t stand the touch. Not yet. And everything would be a dream. Two hands. A shitty job. Tension at home. Depression. It would all be back to normal. How it should be.
He heard pounding from downstairs. They would find him. He had to hide himself. Adam shrunk down to the size of a bedbug and disappeared into the fibers of the bed. Nothing could touch him there. Nothing. He would stay there until he could wake up.
The door to his room opened, and a cold hand yanked him to his feet. He fell to the floor. How had they found him? He was a tiny insect.
A voice shouted in French. Adam wouldn’t open his eyes. He didn’t want to get up. The cold hand wrapped around his good wrist. He was dragged across the carpet and out into the light. He kept his eyes screwed shut. It wasn’t real.
He felt his body recoil as his bruises were battered by cold wooden stairs. His head smashed against something cold and hard. More shouting. A gunshot. More stairs. He would disappear. He would wake up. He would die. Anything to escape from this nightmare.
A cold boot connected with his spine. He stayed curled in his tiny insect ball. A caterpillar in the hand of a child. Darkness once again. A door closed. He was alone. Cold. Forgotten. Like he should be.
Juliette spoke to one of the officers who was standing guard at the gates. Gwynne didn’t understand what either of them said. She just waited and watched the front door, hoping to see Adam come strolling out at any minute. The officer shook his head. Juliette fumed. Gwynne could tell he wasn’t budging.
Another ambulance arrived. That made seven, in total. Gwynne shuddered to think that they might be for anyone she knew. The officers had rushed the door, smashed into the mansion, and a gunfight had exploded in the main entry hall. Several bodies were carried out on gurneys under white sheets. More officers had arrived, these heavily armored and carrying riot shields. A perimeter was established and neighborhood rubbernecks were encouraged to go back to their homes. The crowd pulled back when on of them was grazed by a stray bullet from inside the house. The woman who was grazed was okay after the second ambulance bandaged her up. Gwynne wanted to take cover, but she didn’t want to seem weak when Juliette was clearly trying so hard to be strong.
No one would let them check the bodies of the fallen, so they had no idea if their friends were alive or dead. It was killing Gwynne just to stand there doing nothing, but for once, she was certain that she was powerless to change anything. Juliette was harder to convince. She continued to talk with the officer for a moment before returning to Gwynne’s side.
“No dice?” Gwynne asked.
“Fuck. No. He wouldn’t tell me anything. Said he didn’t care if my mother was in there, he wasn’t going to let me go in.”
“That’s probably for the best.”
“Your track record hasn’t been that good, Juliette. What do you think you’re going to do in there?”
“Find my friends! Which is more than you’re doing!”
Gwynne was shocked. Anger flared in its place. “I’m letting the professionals do what they are trained to do. I, at least, am mature enough to know when to admit that there isn’t anything I can add to a situation by being involved in it! And if you had even an ounce of the restraint I’m practicing RIGHT FUCKING NOW, you would quit meddling around and—“
“And what? Pray? Wish? Hope?”
“I don’t know…” Gwynne’s fire went out.
“No. you don’t. I can wish in one hand and shit in the other. I’ll show you which fills up first.”
Juliette stared at Gwynne. She opened her mouth. She closed it. Opened it again. Finally, she closed it and stared at the house, where a string of people were being led out the front door. They were too far away to make out anyone’s face, but Gwynne was sure she’d recognize Adam if he were there.
“Shit shit shit. Please, Petros.” Juliette said.
“Do you know what Mozer looks like?” Gwynne asked, trying the name on each of the men as they drew closer.
“No. I’ve never met the guy. Petros said he was like a grizzled Sean Connery.”
“You have him over here?”
“Sean Connery is everywhere.”
The police started leaving with men in their cars. The whole ordeal lasted almost an hour. Gwynne was cold, tired, and hungry. It was noon. There still hadn’t been any sign of Adam or Petros. “Maybe they’ve been taken for questioning,” supposed Gwynne.
“Hold on,” Juliette went back to the officer from before. Gwynne watched them chat. This conversation wasn’t as heated. In a few minutes, Juliette returned. “They haven’t found him yet.”
“Adam, or Petros?”
“WHAT?!” Gwynne was instantly nervous.
“They say his men are telling them he’s not here. That he never was.” Juliette shook her head.
“Well, that’s a load of horse shit.”
“They’re sweeping the house top to bottom now. Officers are posted in every door way. The entire Paris police force is on high alert. I couldn’t get him to tell me what it was that got them over here.”
“I don’t expect we’ll find that out.”
Juliette sighed. “God, I want them to find that fucking scumbag so bad.”
After a few more minutes, the police emerged with another sheet-covered body. This one was loaded straight into an ambulance that was parked on the lawn and shuttled off. Juliette had only caught a glimpse of an arm as it dangled from the side of the gurney. It was sheathed in purple crushed velvet. Tears welled into her eyes. “Oh God. Petros!”
She approached the officer one more time. She pointed to the ambulance. She grasped his arm. He spouted a few words, and she came running back. “Come on. I’ve got the name of the hospital they’re going to. I’m sure that was Petros. It’s only a few blocks from here, and I’ve got to see him.”
“I’m sorry, love. I hope they find your man.” And with that, she was off.
Gwynne stood watching the gates for another hour. A few more people were brought out of the house. They all looked emaciated, lost, and bruised. Still, there was no sign of Adam. Gwynne was desperate. She hoped he hadn’t been one of the people they’d brought out on stretchers. The officer Juliette had been milking for information approached her.
In broken English, he asked, “You waiting for someone?”
“Yes. My…friend. Adam.”
“Yes! American! Do you know anything about him?”
“Oh. He bad. He go to hospital.”
“He was hurt?” She was frantic.
“He hurt bad. But. In here.” He pointed to his head.
Gwynne’s heart broke. To think of Adam with a bashed in head made her heart leap into her throat. Brain damage could change a person’s entire personality. “Will he be okay?”
The man shrugged.
“Where is the hospital? I have to find him!”
He gave her instructions she hoped she understood.
“Thank you.” She smiled at him as she darted off in the direction she had seen Juliette going.
“Wait,” he called after her.
“Come. Come. I take you.”
Gwynne smiled and got in the back of the squad car. “But don’t they need you here?”
“No.” And with that, it was lights and sirens all the way to the hospital.
The radio in his car squawked the whole time. “What are they saying?” Gwynne asked.
“Fire. Big fire.”
“Oh. How terrible.” She listened to the back and forth, not recognizing any of the words.
He let her out at the emergency room entrance. “Thank you, sir! Umm…merci beaucoup?”
His smile lit up the inside of the cab. “Very good. Good luck.”
She waved to him and ran to the automatic doors. They whisked open, admitting her to a sterile looking waiting room that wasn’t nearly as full as she thought it might be, based on her experience in hospital waiting rooms back home.
Juliette was at the counter, shouting in French.
She turned. “Gwynne! Did they find him? Is he here?”
The desk attendant used her distraction to slip away through a door behind the desk.
“That cop you were talking to. He told me Adam was taken away for head injuries. At least, I think that’s what he said. He gave me a ride and everything.”
“Well, that’s more than I’ve found out here,” she rounded on the desk attendant, who wasn’t there. “Where the hell?” She shouted something French at the door.
“What did they tell you?”
Juliette took a deep breath. “I told them I knew Petros was here. I gave them his name. They won’t tell me anything. They wouldn’t even confirm that he’s in here.”
“Well, if my time in this awful city had taught me anything, it’s that I won’t get any farther in English.”
“What we need is a plan.”
“No. Juliette! No!”
“Well, we can’t just sit here and do nothing!”
“Don’t you remember what happened last time you had a plan?”
Juliette looked at the bland artwork on the walls. It seemed an affront to this city or culture and art.
Gwynne snapped. “Juliette! We were shot at!”
“Oh, please. I don’t know how it is in America, but in Paris, hospital staff don’t carry guns.”
“You know what I mean!”
“Alright, then. Juliette put her hands on her hips. “What would you propose we do?”
“If we can’t get it ourselves, who do we know that might be able to get us some information?”
Juliette considered her shoes.
“He has access to a private doctor. He has dirt on the city’s biggest criminals.”
“Oh, come off it. I know who you’re talking about. I’m not an idiot.” Juliette started for the phone at the reception desk.
“Where are you going now?”
She turned. “I’m getting us a taxi. I’ve hoofed it all over this city. I’m done with that. I don’t care what it costs anymore. I’m not walking.”
In a few minutes, a taxi was waiting outside for them. They got in and gave the driver the address. He spoke to them as he left the curb. Juliette nodded. Gwynne leaned to her and whispered, “What’d he say?”
“He says there’s a big fire over on that side of town. Police and fire trucks have blocked off some of the streets around the area. He’ll get us as close as he can.”
They rode across town in the back of the cab, listening to French talk radio. Juliette thought of Adam lying in surgery, head cracked open, doctors feverishly working to close it and avoid brain injury. She desperately wanted to barge past the reception desk and into the hospital proper, demanding to see him. She imagined coming to his rescue just as he opened his eyes from the anesthetic. In her head, the scenario ended with him not knowing who she was. She shook the daydream from her mind.
The cab stopped a few blocks away from Le Ours’s house. Juliette paid the man and they got out. A huge pillar of black smoke towered over the area. Bits of paper floated through the air like black snowflakes out of some horrific storm. Sirens rounded the corner before a fire truck appeared. It raced by, turning down a side street.
“I hope it doesn’t spread,” said Juliette as they walked.
“God. What a nightmare of a day.” Gwynne shook her head and followed Juliette around the corner onto Le Ours’s street.
She ran smack into the back of Juliette, who had stopped suddenly, eyes glued to a horrific scene. Gwynne looked around her and gasped. “Oh. Shit.”
In front of them was the safe house, or what was left of it. Flames poured from the entire top floor. The roof had caved in and was belching smoke into the blue sky. Firemen ran hoses from hydrants and trucks, desperately trying to keep the blaze in check. There was no hope of saving the house. Gwynne could tell by the way the firemen were expending most of their attention wetting the houses on either side. Water poured down the front steps and into the street, carrying ash in a black stream. It ran down the sidewalk and into a nearby storm drain.
Behind the line of hoses and trucks, a crowd of boys stood aghast. An ambulance and emergency team nearby treated several with oxygen masks. Gwynne approached the crowd. They turned, almost as one, to stare at he with cold eyes.
“I’m so sorry.”
Other Adam emerged from the back of the crowd. “Go away.”
Gwynne flinched like she’d been slapped. “Excuse me?”
“I need to see Le Ours.”
“You have seen enough. Now go.”
“You don’t understand. Our friends. They’re in the hospital. We have to know if they are okay.”
“I am sorry. We cannot help you anymore.”
He rolled his eyes and looked at the flames. “This. Our home. It is gone.”
“And I’m sorry for that. Look. I just need to let Le Ours know about this.”
“He takes you in. He looks after you. And this. This is what happens. We told him he should not get involved. He would not hear it. That Jackal. He is a monster. He did this.”
“The Jackal did this?” Gwynne’s eyes glazed over and started to water with a waft of smoke.
Other Adam nodded.
“How do you know?”
The boy looked at Gwynne like she was the world’s dumbest American.
“Is everyone okay?”
“We have no home! No. We are not okay.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. But is anyone physically injured.”
Other Adam pointed to the ambulance.
“This is maddening!” Juliette interrupted, grabbed other Adam by the front of his shirt, and shook him. “Look, pretty boy, we have been all over this city. We’ve lost friends, been shot at, been besieged by clowns, and had to do things we never would have done otherwise. I’m sorry your house is burning down, but we just want to talk to Le Ours. Where the hell is he?”
She let him go. Adam soothed the front of his shirt and ran a hand over his hair. “He is dead.”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake.” Juliette’s hand flew to her mouth.
Gwynne looked down. “I’m so sorry.”
“Now. Will you leave us to mourn in peace?”
They nodded, skulking away, out of the gaze of the seventeen boys who had just lost their father. “Shit,” Juliette said to herself.
“I know. Now I feel terrible.”
“Sure. Sure. But what the hell are we going to do now?”
Gwynne looked around her, no longer feeling safe to be in the street. “I don’t know. No where is safe, now, with Mozer out there.”
“Especially not after he firebombed this place. Jesus. How horrible.”
Juliette paused. “All my clothes were in there!”
Gwynne was suddenly glad her things were thousands of miles away in a storage locker. All she had lost was a few pieces of clothing and the book she was reading.
“We have to go back to my place. I’ve got some more there.”
“No. Le Ours had them stored, remember? He was sending us to America.”
“God damnit! And now we can’t even ask the old bugger what he did with them? No records. No papers. No receipts. What the hell am I going to do?”
“What about Petros’s apartment?”
“I didn’t have any clothes there.”
“But couldn’t we go there? It would at least get us off the street.”
“And then what?”
“I don’t know. Jesus. I’m as lost and frustrated as you are, Juliette.”
“Sorry. This is just…more than I can handle right now. It seems awfully imbalanced to be worrying about a place to stay when Petros could be dying right now.”
“Or locked up.”
Juliette smacked her forehead. “Of course! Or that. God. When he does get out of the hospital, he’s going to be going right to the police station, I’m sure.”
“Why don’t we try there, then?”
“Oh, no. Remember the last time we were there? I’m not sleeping in a cold room, just waiting for someone to come talk to me. No way.”
Gwynne sighed. “Well, I’m out of ideas.”
“Let’s get off the street. I have a key to Petros’s flat. There might not be much left there, but at least we won’t be at the mercy of anyone who passes by.”
“You don’t think it’s dangerous to go back there now? Mozer and the police will both be watching it!”
“Not necessarily. They both should know that Petros is in custody. I don’t think anyone will be looking into his apartment. And when word spreads that Le Ours’s place is gone, it’ll be the only place left for them to come to. I’m willing to take a chance on this. It beats standing around in the street.”
They left the shadow of the pillar of smoke and headed across the river toward Petros’s flat. It seemed to be the last refuge in this mixed up city.