Juliette’s flat was nowhere near as nice as Petros’s. Clearly having a day job wasn’t what paid. Two days had passed since they fled under threat of the police. They had neither seen not heard from Petros in that time. Juliette was almost catatonic with worry. Adam kept assuring her he was fine, that he had escaped to a place where he could do exactly what they were doing, laying low until the time came to reunite. He wasn’t sure it was the truth, but that’s not really what mattered at the time.
“Come on. We have to get out of here, at least for a bit.”
Juliette shook her head. “No. The police will know I lied to them about the Louvre.”
It had turned out to be fake, all of it—the whimpering, the tears. Adam had to hand it to her, she certainly pulled through for her friend in his time of need. He knew he wasn’t able to do much at all in the hands of the police. For her to pull a ruse out while they tore open the apartment and tried to apprehend her best friend was amazing. He admired her for it.
“You think they’re wasting their energy looking for you?”
“They did it before. Why wouldn’t they do it again? No. I’m staying here.”
“But he can’t come here. You know they’re probably watching this place, if they’re looking for him at all.”
“But you just said they wouldn’t waste their energy.”
Adam stopped. Thought. “Fine. I’m going out. You can stay here.”
He was going to make himself available again in case Petros was looking for him. It seemed an awful plan to stay cooped up in an apartment when a friend was in danger. He opened the door to the apartment and wished Juliette adieu. When he turned to leave, he saw there was an envelope taped to the outside of the door. He plucked it from its moorings and brought it in, closing the door behind him.
“What is it?”
He turned it over in his hands. “There’s no address. No name.”
She approached him and took the letter from his hands. “Then I guess it’s mine.”
Before he could protest or warn her about letter bombs, she tore the end of the envelope off and tugged the single sheet of paper from inside. “It’s from Petros! I know that handwriting!”
“Why would he tape it to our door if he were here. Anyone could have walked by and opened it.”
“But they didn’t. It’s still sealed.” She read the letter while Adam worried aloud.
“A single envelope and a moist tongue could make any unaddressed letter look like it hadn’t been opened.”
“Fine. So maybe they did read it.”
“What’s it say?”
“We’ve got to meet him at the Arc de Triumph. 8:00 tonight.”
“What’s this bit?” he pointed to the bottom of the letter where the post script was scrawled. “Look for Bubbles?”
“Oh God,” Juliette moaned, putting her face in her hands. “Not Bubbles.”
“What’s so bad about bubbles?”
“I hate clowns.”
Adam stood with his mouth agape. She’d lost him. “Eh…”
“For Halloween one year, just to terrorize me and the rest of the neighborhood, Petros dressed as Bubbles, a clown who used to ‘entertain’ near the Arc.”
Adam couldn’t picture Petros dressed as a clown. Then he mentally applied the white face paint, and the rest fell together. He shuddered.
“What on earth is he thinking? Bubbles has been dead for years. If he’s trying to blend in…”
“…yeah.” Adam and Juliette looked at each other, trying to decipher his intentions. “And you’re sure it’s gonna be the clown? Not…like…bubbles. Actual bubbles?”
“Capital letter B Bubbles. Definitely the clown.” She set the letter down and looked out the window into the narrow street.
“Well, I guess we’ll have to wait and see, then. At least he’ll be easy to find if we have to beat a quick escape.”
“But to where?”
“We’ll figure that out later.”
Later that night, they dressed warmly and headed for the Arc. It was a chilly night, and their breath was visible under the street lamps as they passed. Tourists crowded the roundabout, making crossing difficult, but they forded the traffic and set up camp under the Arc, trying to look interested and lost, like people who didn’t curse the traffic at the Arc every day. It was easier for Adam, because he was, in fact, still sort of a tourist. He hadn’t lost the starry-eyed glaze.
Juliette had to force herself to look at the plaques and statues around her instead of craning her neck to find a clown in a crowd. She kept an eye out for anyone else who looked like they might be looking for someone. A man with shoulder length brown hair stood near a delivery van that was parked on a side street. He’d been there since they’d arrived, and his presence was making Juliette nervous.
Adam walked down the side of the huge victory arch, taking it all in. He was paying so much attention to the attraction that he didn’t notice a woman in his way and bumped into her. “Oh, I’m sorry.”
The woman turned to look at him. He expected a rude-sounding string of French words to come sailing from her mouth like an armada, but instead, she said, “Adam?!”
He looked at her face, finally seeing her for who she was. “Gwynne?!”
They both temporarily forgot the rockier parts of their history and hugged like two tourists meeting in a strange city. “Oh my God! What the hell are you doing here?” she asked.
He shrugged. “I sort of live here now…”
She stared at his stump. “Where is your other hand?”
“I…it’s a long story.”
She sobered. He knew she was thinking about the fight they’d had. He needed something to break the tension. This was too strange a coincidence to let what happened get in the way. “Juliette!”
“Do you see him?!” she said, running over.
“Oh. I’m sorry. No.” He had temporarily forgotten why they were there. “I just ran into someone I know. Juliette, this is Gwynne. Gwynne, Juliette.”
They shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. Gwynne looked from Juliette to Adam and back.
“Adam has told me so much about you,” she said, trying to break the palpable tension.
“Hopefully all good things.” She fake laughed.
Adam realized Gwynne’s mistake. “Oh, Juliette is my host’s best friend. We’re actually here looking for him.”
Juliette turned and asked Gwynne, “What brings you to Paris, love?”
Adam realized he hadn’t asked her that yet. What the hell WAS she doing here? She wanted to stay back, work on her career, chain herself to a desk. He was suddenly very angry. “Yeah. What are you doing here?”
She stopped for a moment. She had anticipated feeling guilty about her trip, and she had. She hadn’t anticipated having to answer to Adam. Especially not unexpectedly. Especially not IN Paris. “I got the opportunity to study abroad. And…I guess…what you said about not taking risks really got to me. I told myself I couldn’t. I shouldn’t. I talked myself out of it so many times, but in the end, I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t go.”
Adam stared at her. He suddenly didn’t have anything nice to say.
“I know. I know. It’s terrible of me to dump on your trip and then go. I know. And I felt guilty as hell for doing it. And maybe that’s not a consolation for what happened. But I had to do what was right for me at that time.”
Juliette scanned the area for clowns. Still nothing. She checked her watch. 8:02. Where the hell was Petros?
Adam didn’t know what to say to her. He was hurt. He was surprised. And underneath it, he was happy to see her. “Gwynne, I—“
“There he is!” Juliette pointed to a lone figure dressed in huge hoop-waisted pants, a rainbow wig, and white face makeup with a huge smile painted overtop of it.
Adam looked at the lone clown. Another clown appeared, coming from the next street over. “No. He’s there.”
Juliette pointed the next block down, where another clown dressed exactly the same as the first two emerged. “Oh. My. God.” Clowns were pouring out of side streets and buses and doors all around the circle. A veritable sea of clowns was converging on the Arc’s foundation. Juliette was terrified.
Gwynne just stared. “What in the name of clowns…”
The clowns advanced silently and at once. Adam whispered to Gwynne, “We’re here to meet a friend. It’s sort of a long story, but he said he would be dressed as a clown.”
“You have made quite a few friends since you’ve been here, haven’t you?”
“No. See…we weren’t expecting a thousand clowns.”
Juliette shrieked, “This is a nightmare! We’ll never find him.”
Adam started to climb the side of the Arc. “We have to get higher. If we can’t find him, he’ll have to find us!”
“Brilliant!” Juliette hoisted herself up and tried to look visible and not terrified.
Gwynne joined them, although she didn’t have the slightest clue what was going on. The surreal sight of seventeen hundred identical clowns was enough to make her want to get above the tide.
Juliette looked toward the delivery van where the man with the brown hair had been standing. He was gone. She looked through the crowd. Was that him? She couldn’t tell. The sea of clowns crashed around him and he was gone.
They waited until clowns stopped pouring out of the Paris streets, watching as they mulled about in rings around the Arc, still silent. Juliette marveled that Petros could have put together such a plot. Before long, sirens could be heard advancing from all sides of the city. Flashing lights swept over the white faces, briefly turning them a horrible shade of red. Police emerged from cars, winding through the crowd and accosting clowns. People started to shout as the crowd got violent, officers cuffing clowns that resisted.
“This is a nightmare!” shouted Juliette. “Where the hell is he?”
“He’s everywhere. That’s the problem.”
A single gunshot split the night in two halves. The air filled with screams. Adam, Juliette, and Gwynne leapt from the ledge they were on, dropping into a crouch with the rest of the people in the square. The clowns stood back up first, started moving faster and faster, creating a whirlpool of human beings and rainbow wigs, sweeping along with their wide hoop pants.
“Oh, God. Oh, God.” Juliette moaned.
Gwynne covered put her hands over her green knit cap which held her curly blond hair down to her head. “Who the hell are these people, Adam?!”
“I don’t know. Our friend is tied up with some nasty business, I think.”
“Was that the police, shooting?” Juliette asked.
“I can’t imagine they would just fire at us.” Adam said, keeping his head down.
Juliette looked around at the clowns racing past them. “Where the hell is he?”
Another gunshot brought the crowd to a frenzy. People started scattering in all directions. The clowns bumbled past, no longer silent. Clearly this wasn’t part of the plan.
“He’s never going to find us down here!” said Adam, standing up.
“Are you crazy?!” hissed Gwynne. “Get back here!”
“You’ll be shot!” Juliette waved him down.
“No. He has to see us.”
There was a third gunshot, and Adam ducked.
Juliette screamed. “Get down! Let’s get out of here! Forget Petros. This is madness!”
Adam scanned the crowd once more. It was hopeless. “Come on, then.”
He hopped down, grabbed Gwynne’s hand, and led them out into the crowd, keeping low. It wasn’t clear who was shooting or who they were shooting at, but he didn’t want to attract the attention. Clowns swept past them, knocking their hoop-waists askew. Adam led them toward the street through the throngs.
The crowd parted in front of them and he could see the street. “This way!”
Once out of the clowns and onto the side street, they stood. A man with a gun held a single clown at gunpoint.
“It’s him!” stage-whispered Juliette.
“Who?” said Adam and Gwynne in unison.
“The guy from the delivery truck.”
Two dead clowns lay in the street near him, bleeding from horrible wounds in their heads. Adam felt he might be sick.
“Oh my god,” Gwynne groaned.
The man spoke to them. “Up.”
They stood as one.
He tore the wig from the clown he was holding.
“Petros!” Juliette wailed.
The clown smiled hugely, despite the look on his face being one of abject horror. “RUN!” he shouted.
Juliette stood her ground. “No. We came to find you, and we’re going to get you out of here.”
“It’s okay. I’m okay. This is one of Mozer’s men. They’ve been looking for me. It’s time for me to answer for myself. You guys get out of here.”
The man grinned horribly. “They’re not going anywhere.” He pointed the gun at them. “Come on.” He rounded them up and led them to the delivery truck.
Petros shouted, “Let them go! They don’t have anything to do with any of this!”
“Open the door,” he said to Adam, ignoring Petros.
Adam climbed up on the back of the truck and lifted the huge cargo door open.
“Everyone in,” the man said.
Adam leaned back and offered his good hand to help Juliette into the truck. He turned to the man, pointed at Gwynne. “Let her go. She had nothing to do with this. Just the unfortunate coincidence to have ever known me.”
“Unfortunate, indeed,” he said, chuckling. “Unfortunately, she knows as much as you. No one gets a free pass.”
He helped Gwynne into the truck.
Petros begged, “Please. Don’t mix them up in all of this. These people are my friends. I don’t care what you do with me, but don’t hurt them.”
Once they were all in, he slid the tall door down, latching it with an appropriately ominous click. They were trapped. Petros was presumably in the cab with the delivery man. The truck rumbled to life. In the dark, they were only voices.
“Gwynne, I’m sorry I got you caught up in all of this.”
Gwynne thunked her head on the wall of the van. “I knew I might regret this trip, but I had no idea it would be quite this way.”
“Well, love,” said Juliette, “At least you did something. All my life I’ve been right here. Working at a career. Losing at love.”
“But look. We both ended up in the same place—the back of a delivery van on the way to God knows where, with a murderous henchman driving and a clown in the passenger seat. And Adam.”
“And me,” said Adam. He reached over, trying to find her hand in the dark. “Where are you?”
“I’m right here,” she said from the other side of the van.
“What are you doing? You’re going to get hurt.”
He didn’t realize how much he had missed her laugh. “HA! That man has a gun, presumably filled with bullets, presumably with our names on them. And I might get hurt?”
“She’s got a point, Adam.”
“So…what are you doing?” he asked.
“I’m looking for a way out. There has to be a weak spot or something. There always is.”
Juliette sounded amused. “Are you often in the back of delivery vans on your way to meet your final destiny?”
Gwynne grunted. “Well. That’s how it happens in the movies.”
“Unfortunately,” Adam reminded her, “this is real life.”
Juliette parroted Gwynne’s tone. “That’s how it happens in the movies. And right about now, Petros isn’t shitting himself. He’s punching the driver out and grabbing the wheel before we careen into the Seine.”
Just then, the vehicle lurched. Adam heard Gwynne hit the floor with an “Ooof.”
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine.” She was getting back up when another lurch knocked her back to the floor.
“Oh, shite.” Juliette moaned. “Grab onto something. This could get ugly.”
They grasped for support beams and anything else they could hook their fingers into. Adam had less to work with, but he wrapped his fingers around a metal rod that seemed well-anchored. The truck steadied, and they all listened for anything they could hear to tell them what was going on. A gunshot ripped through the sheeting of the cargo hold, letting an intermittent bolt of sunlight into their world as they passed streetlights. Juliette was lying on the floor of the truck, holding onto a metal shelf. Gwynne crouched in the back corner of the truck.
“Is everyone okay?” Adam asked.
“I’m fine,” said Juliette.
“Me, too,” said Gwynne. “Are you?”
“I think so,” Adam said.
Another gunshot rang out from the cabin. This one didn’t make it into the back of the truck. The vehicle lurched again, and Juliette’s shelving came unmoored, tipping onto Gwynne, who tucked herself into a ball. Adam lost his bearings as the truck threw them into the air and slammed them down again. The hold was a confusion of metal shelving and bodies, slamming into each other and the walls in a deafening orchestra of pain.
The truck was on its side. Adam shoved a mess of twisted metal off of himself. “Fuck. Gwynne?”
“Jesus, fuck,” Juliette moaned.
Gwynne said, “Juliette’s fine.”
“I’m good,” she said. “Thanks. Just a little shaken. We’re alive, at least.”
Gwynne stood up, just barely able to stand in the sideways truck. “For now, at least.”
She helped Adam to his feet, taking his good hand and pulling.
Juliette lumbered to her feet and ran her fingers through her hair. “What the hell was that?”
“I hope that bullet didn’t hit anyone I know,” Adam said.
Gwynne looked at the crumpled walls and the carnage that lay around them. “What do we do?”
Juliette leaned against the wall that used to be the floor. “I guess we wait. A car crash is bound to catch someone’s attention.”
As if to illustrate her point, sirens wailed their way across the city until they reached the truck, then stopped. They could hear voices outside of the truck. Juliette translated as they spoke
“What the hell happened?”
“The driver lost control. The truck tipped. Hit that cart right over there.”
“A damn shame. She was just trying to something something mumble.”
“Where is the driver?”
“Where did this rainbow wig come from?”
Gwynne pounded on the side of the truck. “Let us out!”
“Oh, God. There’s people in there!”
“I’m sorry. We’re going to get you out of there as soon as we can.”
They fiddled around with the back of the truck, unable to raise the door.
“Does anyone speak French?”
Juliette said, “I do.”
“Tell them to get back. Get back by the floor of the truck, and we will cut through.”
There was silence for a moment, and then they heard a horrible screech. A large blade, like a giant pair of scissors, ripped through the ceiling of the truck like it was construction paper. Light flooded into the cabin. It was only street lights, but they welcomed it. After a few moments, the hole was big enough to get them out. An ambulance and a police car waited for them nearby. There was no sign of Petros or the armed delivery driver.
“Do any of you know where the driver of this car went?”
Adam let Juliette do the talking. “No. We were thrown around in there when it crashed, and I didn’t hear anyone escaping. There were two gunshots right before.”
Another officer called out something Adam didn’t understand. They looked at where he was pointing. A trail of blood led away from the crashed truck. There was a flurry of activity, and Juliette bit her nails while she explained what was going on.
The police radioed for someone to follow the trail. They were examined by the medical professionals on the ambulance and patched right there in the street. Aside from some small cuts and one large gash on Gwynne’s thigh, they had survived the ordeal in fairly good shape.
When the officers were busy, Juliette let her fears out. “Do you think it’s Pet’s blood?”
Gwynne didn’t want to speculate. Adam shrugged. “I guess they’ll find out. But the good thing is that neither of them were here at the site of the crash. That means they both survived. At least, initially. Someone’s clearly wounded.”
“Hopefully they’ll catch them, and all of this can be over,” said Gwynne. “I’m ready to get out of this place and back where I belong.”
Juliette scowled. “That’s my best friend you’re talking about. I’d hoped you might show some support.”
“Well, excuse me for not being completely in love with the man in the clown suit who almost got us killed!”
Adam stepped up, as much for peace as for the throbbing in his head that was not being made any better by their bickering. “Please. Ladies. Can we just wait and see what happens before we go flying off the handle?”
They begrudgingly backed down, putting on cordial faces to hide the seething hate that was developing with every word spoken by either party. The police got their backup, and Adam, Juliette, and Gwynne were taken down to the police station for questioning. Adam was afraid this night would never end.