Gwynne sat at her desk and stared at the parking lot out her window. Spring was on its way. The snow that clung to the roadsides and piled itself at the base of her office building was on the way out, leaving a wet shadow on everything it uncovered in its wake. The bare trees had started to brown once more, separating themselves from the gray slate of winter.
The cursor on her screen blinked inside the reply field of the email she had just gotten. She couldn’t go. Could she? Studying art in one of the most artistic cities known to man? It wasn’t for her. What about her job? What would Adam think after everything?
She shook the unexpected thought from her head. What did she care. He was an asshole. And she had a job here. With benefits. She had a home. And she was thinking about getting a dog. She couldn’t throw all of that away to follow some stupid dream. It was foolish. Frivolous. Idiotic, even. What would come of it? Nothing. Just more book knowledge that didn’t get her anywhere in the world. Sure, she’d get to see one of the most beautiful places this world had to offer, live there for four months, and have stories to tell her kids someday. But. For what? More debt. Less stability. No, thank you.
She closed the email and opened her spreadsheet once again. The tiny clock in the corner of her screen said 11:30. Half an hour until lunch. Her stomach growled.
A knock on the door woke Adam from dreams of sand. He rolled from the couch. How long had he been asleep? He peered through the peephole. A man in a military style cap stood in the hallway. Police. Adam opened the door. “Yes?”
The officer said some things Adam didn’t understand. He caught Petros Tsoukalos in the mix.
Adam shrugged. “I don’t speak French.”
The officer scowled. “English, then?” His accent was thick, but Adam smiled.
“Yes. I’m sorry. I’m just visiting.”
“We are looking for a man called Petros Tsoukalos. We have reason to believe that he lives here.”
“Oh. What happened?”
“Is Petros here?” the man asked, looking over Adam’s shoulder into the apartment.
“No. He’s out. I’m sorry. Is he in trouble?”
“We would like to ask him some questions. Do you know where he is or when he will be back.”
“No. I’m sorry.” In the month or so Adam had been staying with him, Petros often disappeared for hours at a time with no notice and no information. It always started with a hushed phone call and ended with drinks at odd hours of the night. Adam had to admit, he thought there was probably something illegal going on, but he wasn’t about to question his host and end up on the street where he would once again be at the mercy of the city.
“Thank you for your time,” the officer said, turning to leave.
Adam shut the door. What was that about? He padded in his bare feet back to Petros’s bedroom, knocked, and waited. There was no answer. He opened the door slowly, lifting gently to prevent it from creaking. “Petros.”
“Mmm,” the blankets stirred.
“Hey. I’m sorry to wake you.”
Petros patted the side of the bed and moved over. Adam sat. “What time is it?” he mumbled into his pillow.
“It’s just past noon.”
“No wonder I feel like I didn’t get enough sleep. Lay down. Let’s spoon.”
Adam shook his head. He was used to Petros’s flimsy advances, more common when he wasn’t quite awake yet. “Listen. Wake up.”
Petros stirred, rolled over. “What?”
“The police were just here.”
He sat up. “What?!”
“I told them you were out.”
“Good boy. You deserve—“
“Why were they here?”
“How should I know? Did they say anything to you about it?”
“They just said they wanted to ask you some questions.”
“They always say they only want to ask questions. Questions lead to answers.”
“And that worries you?”
Petros looked around the room. “Come on. Of course!”
“The Seven of Swords! Secrets!”
That had been his answer to Adam every time he’d asked about anything specific in the last month. He was getting tired of it. “Maybe I’ll just go out and ask Juliette, then. I’m sure she’d be happy to tell me.”
“You wouldn’t dare.”
“Well, I’m okay with you disappearing at all hours of the day and night. I’m fine with spontaneous champagne. I’m even okay with the fact that you won’t let me pay for anything.”
“Well, how would you?”
“I know. Thank you again.”
“You’re welcome. You know, you could repay me in another way.” He pulled the blanket back, revealing a tent in his silk boxers.
“I’d rather be on the street.”
Adam pulled the blanket over his friend’s vulgar display. “Petros. The police were here. Are you in trouble?”
“Look around you. Of course I’m in trouble! I’m a professional thief!”
“God, you’re lucky you’re pretty, because you certainly aren’t bright.”
Adam shoved Petros over in bed. “Shut it.”
Petros righted himself. “It’ll be fine. They’re just checking in with me, I’m sure. I’ve informed them in the past about certain…jobs. People trying to fleece me, to hit a target before I can. I won’t be beat.”
“So that’s all it was?”
“I hope you’re right.”
Adam wondered what would happen if his host was dragged off to jail. How serious would the charges be? What would happen to his apartment. Juliette would be crushed, he was sure. Petros thought of the man in the Tarot card, his arms full of swords, leaving a trail of evidence behind him. It was a sobering image. He hoped he wouldn’t have to disappear once again. He was really enjoying his new friendship.
Juliette took her carryout bag from the restaurant clerk and headed out into the January sunshine, a sort of chilling radiance that promised more than it delivered. She was convinced the sun was a man. Stories of her lack of luck in love could fill volumes, had filled volumes. And she aligned them like trophies on her purple bookcase, spray painted during her purple phase. Her journals read like a cyclical poem or a Taize service, line after line of repeated phrases until a heavenly drone was achieved. She gave too much, expected too much, and was often left with nothing but a promise unfulfilled. Petros had been one of her first. But he had been graceful enough to let her inside his secrets, when they were still secrets. For that, she had given herself to him in friendship, something she didn’t do easily. Had it brought her happiness? No. Wealth? Not really. Companionship? When he wasn’t busy with something or someone else, yes.
And now there was Adam. She knew she couldn’t compete with him for attention. She didn’t have the chiseled body, the classic face. She could manage the beard, but she didn’t fancy wearing that thing around. No, she had to do things to give her an excuse to spend time with her friend, like unexpectedly popping in with lunch for them.
She held the bag by its twine handles, swinging it gently as she walked. A police car swerved to the curb and stopped. An officer, handsome as every officer seemed to be in his almost military style uniform, got out of the car. She had a fleeting fantasy of being dragged off into some alley, but she shook it off when he actually started toward her. She looked behind her. Was there something going on she hadn’t seen?
“Juliette Cheese?” He asked.
God, how she hated her last name. “Yes?”
“Do you know Petros Tsoukalos?”
The dread that lived in her stomach leapt into her mouth. She was sure it was all over her face, as all her emotions tended to be. He certainly saw it, and lying to protect her friend would only make him seem suspicious. “Yes.”
“Any idea as to his location?”
“I assumed he was home. Is he in trouble?”
“We just wanted to ask him some questions.”
The cop nodded at her. “Thank you for your time.” He turned to walk back to the car.
Juliette stepped in front of him. “Now hold on just a second. You come here, track me down to ask me about my best friend in the middle of this city. Clearly you’re not the only officer looking for him. What is this about? I deserve to know!”
The officer stared at her through his sunglasses. “Ma’am.”
Juliette broke from her fervor, noticed all the people standing around staring, and felt quite small. “I’m sorry. You just worried me, that’s all. Excuse me.”
The officer returned to his car, and Juliette pretended to rummage through her purse until his car was out of sight. She turned to the people who were still staring. “Don’t you people have anything better to do than stare? Bloody hell. You’d think I was a one woman circus. Go on!” She shooed them away and fled their gaze.
Juliette hurried to Petros’s apartment, worried at what she might find when she got there.
She buzzed his apartment, relieved when the door buzzed back to let her in. She climbed the stairs two at a time, huffing at the top. His door was open. Adam stood in the doorway, smiling.
“Adam! Where is Petros?”
He let her in and shut the door behind her. “So much for hello.”
“Hello,” Petros said, stepping from the bathroom, toweling his hair.
Juliette rushed him. “Oh, Pet. You’re in trouble, aren’t you?”
“Yes. Adam used the last of the conditioner, and now my hair is going to be all tangly.”
She smacked him. “Sweet rollerblading Christ, Pet. I got stopped by the police! They were asking about you. Wouldn’t tell me what about. What they hell did you do?”
“What’s in the bag?” he asked, picking it up from the table where she had dropped it.
She snatched it from his hands. “Petros Louise Tsoukalos—“
Adam laughed. “Louise?”
“It’s not my real middle name. She just invented it for when she’s angry.”
“GOD DAMNIT, PETROS. WOULD YOU JUST TELL ME WHAT IS GOING ON?!” she shouted, pinning them all in place.
“My dear, there is no need to shout. I am here. I am fine.”
She put her head on his shoulder and he hugged her. “I just don’t want anything to happen to you.”
Adam squared his toes in the corners of the tiles on the floor, aligned them with the legs of the kitchen chairs. Petros’s phone rang. “Excuse me.” He took the call.
Juliette looked at Adam, her eyeliner smudged. He smiled ineffectually, looked at the floor. “You know something.”
Adam looked up, looked away. “No.”
“You do. Look at me!”
He looked at her.
“What do you know? Is he in trouble?”
“No. I honestly don’t know anything. I only just found out what he does.”
“You only—“ she looked around the stylishly furnished apartment, obviously the product of tens of thousands of dollars. “It’s a good thing you’re pretty, because you’re kind of obtuse.”
“That’s what he just said.”
“What did you think he did?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t really want to ask. You know…if I don’t know where the money comes from, I don’t have to feel guilty about benefiting from it. He left. He came back. He made money.”
“It must be nice to be so completely oblivious to everything.”
“Admittedly, it was willful blindness.” Adam shrugged. “Wonder who is on the phone.”
“He only ever gets calls from Mozer on that phone.”
“Mozer?” Adam felt stupid in Juliette’s presence. She knew so much about the world around him.
“Thieves have bosses?”
“Christ almighty, Adam. You’re not THAT pretty.”
He threw his hands in the air. “I’m sorry. I don’t live a life of crime. I don’t know these things.”
“I’m sorry. I know. And…you really ARE that pretty. My god. Your parents must have been statues.”
“I’m feeling a little like Venus myself, lately,” he said, holding up his unbandaged stump.
“I’m glad we got you to a hospital about that, finally.”
They’d gone a few weeks ago to get the wound professionally cleaned and checked out. When Adam told the story of how it had happened, the doctor had remarked on how well it was sterilized. He said he didn’t know what the liquid they may have poured over the top of it was, but that it had certainly been cauterized, possibly while Adam was unconscious. After a tetanus shot and a slathering of antibiotic cream, he was on his way.
It had been almost two months since the incident, and he was finally starting to get used to not having a left hand. His writing was still a mess, and brushing his teeth seemed to get better each day. He hadn’t jammed the toothbrush into his gums in almost a week. There were times, though, when he wasn’t thinking about it, where he reached for things, opening his nonexistent hand to grab or catch or open a drawer. It was clear his brain had not quite gotten used to the absence. Even worse, sometimes it would itch. It was this horrific ghost at the end of his arm, palm itching like someone was about to hand him a hundred dollars. Sometimes it got so bad he would pretend to scratch it to try to soothe it. That almost never worked. He wondered if his hand, wherever it was, twitched when he tried to use it. He pictured it in a basket in the middle of some Indian family’s table, quivering every few minutes with some phantom signal, the family smiling at each other over some strange red soup as they remembered the man to whom they had taught justice before sending him into the city on the weekly supply truck.
“That was Moser,” said Petros, sliding his phone back into his pocket.
“What did he want?” Juliette asked.
“He’s cutting me out.”
Adam didn’t like the sound of that. Juliette stood up from the table. “Oh, kitten. I’m so sorry.”
Petros held her at arms length. “It’s okay. He’s sending me off. Someone seems to have informed the police about what is going on here. He knows the trail will lead back to him if I don’t disappear.”
“Disappear?” Adam asked. “Is he going to have you killed?”
“Well, as much as he says he would miss having me on the team, I would imagine not. But it’s not outside of the realm of possibility.”
Juliette smacked the table. “Damnit, Pet! We’ve got to get you out of here!”
“Hold on. Don’t go getting your panties in a bunch. He’s sending a truck over. We just have to lay low until it gets here. If anyone in a uniform asks, I’m not here.”
Someone knocked on the door. Petros ducked into the back of the apartment. “Shit.”
Juliette looked through the peephole. No one was there. “Well, there’s no one out there.”
They listened for a moment. No footsteps. No more knocks. “What the hell was that about?” Adam asked.
The door flew open, booted from the outside. Juliette screamed.
“Get down on the ground!” a voice boomed.
Adam did as he was told. He hoped Juliette would do the same. Boots stomped by, and he turned his head to watch them disappear into the rear of the apartment. They tore open doors, turned out dressers. There was a smash, perhaps a window.
The boots came back. “Where is he?”
They dragged Juliette to her feet. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Hands grabbed Adam by the neck and around his shoulder and lifted him to his feet. He was face to face with a Parisian police officer. In perfect English, he said, “Petros Tsoukalos. Where is he?”
Adam tried to keep the panic from his voice. “I don’t know. He’s not here.”
Juliette improvised. “I think he’s on a job.”
They bit. “Where?”
“Please. Don’t hurt us.”
“WHERE IS HE?”
She flinched, whimpered. “It’s the big one. He’s headed to the Louvre. God. Please don’t hurt him!”
The four officers disappeared as quickly as they had come. Adam massaged the back of his neck where the gloved hand had burned against his skin. Juliette ran to the back, returned.
Adam saw the befuddled look on her face. “Where is he?”
“I haven’t got the slightest clue. He up and disappeared.”
“Well, that’s good.”
“Yes. I suppose. I only hope he’s alright.”
“Should we stay and wait for him?”
“No,” she looked around at the instant carnage. “I’m guessing they’ll be back to investigate before too long. I don’t want to be here for that.”
They packed a duffel bag full of clothes. Juliette grabbed a small stone statue of a hippopotamus from the mantel over the fireplace. “Can’t let Tarqington stay here alone.”
“First thing he ever stole.”
“Oh, for the love of God.” Adam looked at the ugly statue as Juliette tossed it in the bag.
“Hey, I have to look out for him. Clearly he’s no good at looking after himself. And here.” She grabbed the white sack from the table. “I brought you guys lunch.”