Monday, March 7, 2016

Untitled: Chapter 16

This must be what being in shock feels like, thought Patrice as she ran behind Mr. Baine. But then, how am I able to think about it? Doesn't the fact that I am thinking about being in shock mean that I am not?

Patrice rounded a corner and was dimly aware of bumping into Mr. Baine, who had stopped suddenly. She tried to think about something – anything – that did not involve the man on the bridge being ripped apart. He may have worked for Henri and been chasing her, but surely he did not deserve such a fate. She tried to block from her mind the vision of the vampire shredding first the man's clothing, scraps of fabric tossed aside like the feathers of a plucked chicken, then his flesh; to deny the pool of blood, glistening black in the dim light of the bridge, spreading everywhere like liquid shadow.

They asked me something about Belfort. She struggled to remember what had transpired even an hour before. What else? Running, so much running, and … noise, and fear. Mostly fear. And that made her angry. She tried to think of something pleasant - or, at least, not terrifying and horrible. The only coherent mental image she could summon at the moment was of a great stone lion, powerful and serene. Mr. Baine lurched back and bumped into her a second time and her mind was off and racing yet again.

So much has happened, it all blurs together. Maybe I am still in shock over Camille. Had her death been as gory and violent as that on the bridge? No, that vampire wasn’t as desperate. As soon as it had become aware of Patrice hiding in the bushes, it left her cousin’s remains to chase down a second meal. It got greedy. The vampire on the bridge, however, must’ve been out of its mind with hunger. It had … 

“Look out!” Wendell grabbed her arm and yanked her to the side. With a gurgling hiss, a tattered form slumped to the ground where she stood but a second before. Looking down, Patrice was surprised to see a vampire – not the one on the bridge – lying in a heap, a wooden stake protruding from its chest. When had this happened?

“This one's fresh,” said Mr. Baine, nudging it with his toe. That look in his eye, was it satisfaction? "Got a uniform on, too." The corpse was that of a young man, dressed as the soliders at the gate had been.
"Do you think they patrol out here?" said Wendell, turning to Patrice.
Where are we? Patrice realized that she had no recollection of their journey after the bridge.
“Patrice.” Wendell gave her a gentle shake, “Are you okay? Were you hurt?”
“I … no.” She shook her head, trying to clear the cobwebs and bring herself into back to the here and now, “I'm fine.” She managed a weak smile. Mr. Baine stooped over the still form of his attacker and grasped the stake.
“Should you do that?” said Wendell, “It will revive.”
“Eventually, maybe” said Mr. Baine, “But it's recently turned, doesn't appear to have fed yet, and is now mortally wounded.” With a grunt, he withdrew it, wiping the gore off on the dusty, bloodstained uniform. “Besides, I don't have many stakes left and the gatekeeper was right - this area is rotten with the buggers. Pardon the pun,” he said, looking down at the vampire. He got no reply.
"Give one to Patrice," said Wendell.
"Her?"  said Mr. Baine.
"Me?" said Patrice.
"I just said I don't have many left."
"I can fight and you have your gun," said Wendell, "She needs a means of defending herself, especially if we get separated."
"One shot from the pistol and we'll have every bloodsucker is the region surrounding us."
"That did not prevent you from shooting the man on the bridge." Wendell's voice was level, but Patrice could tell he was upset.
"Look, I hate that it came to that, but we needed a diversion. Every one of these buggers fighting for scraps back at the bridge and blocking her uncle is one less over here chasing us."
"It made us look like the killers we are accused of being." said Wendell.
"It saved her life," Mr. Baine pointed at Patrice with the stake, "She was the closest to it. If I hadn't drawn blood, she'd have been attacked."
"I would have protected her." 
"And then ripped her to pieces right after? Possibly the both of us?"
"No! Never!" Wendell's reply was adamant, but Patrice couldn't help but notice the monk look away as he said them. She decided to intervene.
"Maybe if I had a stake, I could have killed it." Patrice hoped her words sounded braver than she felt.
The two men turned and looked at her. 
"I ... I'm sick of feeling so ... helpless." The admission stung her pride a little, but at the same time it was as if a weight was lifting, "It's time I started taking care of myself." She squared her shoulders and held a hand out to Mr. Baine. "May I?"

There was a moment of stunned silence from both Wendell and Mr. Baine. Mr. Baine looked to Wendell, who nodded. Then, somewhat uncertainly, Mr. Baine extended to her the stake he was holding. "You're certain? This isn't a game." He said.
"It never was," she replied, taking the stake. It was only a bit of wood, but there was a weight to it - a realness - that Patrice had not expected. This was a weapon. It was primitive and crude,  and would require her to be closer to one of those foul creatures than she ever hoped to be, but no less deadly for it, as the dark stain along the taper reminded her.
"We need shelter," said Wendell, his words intruding upon her grim rumination, "Something defensible." The morality debate had been postponed, for now.

Patrice looked around, taking in the city beyond the walls for the first time. Several roads crisscrossed each other and a number of buildings stood silent and still in the night, though they were not nearly as densely packed as those within the fortifications. The area was littered with small craters; scraps of woods and chunks of broken masonry were heaped randomly against buildings or piled in the middle of the street.

Upon closer inspection, many of the buildings were boarded up and had holes gouged in them. A few were little more than ruins. These were the scars of the Prussian siege which had occurred almost twenty years ago. Patrice struggled to recall the details; history was never her best subject, but she was proud of her heritage and of her father who had served – and died - in the war. For those lessons, at least, she had made an effort to be attentive.

An unsettling realization shouldered its way through her preoccupation: twenty years and still the people of Belfort have not reclaimed this portion of the city. Are they so afraid of the vampires? Perhaps, they are unable to wrest it from the plague of vampires which flourished in the wake and destruction of the war? Staring into the distance as she silently mulled this over, she noticed a hunched figure shamble into her line of sight from a set of ruins some distance away. It was too dark to see it in any great detail – a fact for which she was somewhat thankful – but could see well enough to realize it had stopped and was sniffing the air.

“Company.” Wendell had seen it, too.
“It's not coming any closer,” said Mr. Baine, “Surely it can sense us?”
Realization dawned for Patrice, “We're outside of its territory.”
“That,” said Mr. Baine, a hint of shock and admiration in his normally dry tone, “is a surprisingly astute observation. Well done.” Patrice wasn't sure if she should be proud or offended.
“We should go,” said Wendell, “if the other vampires realize this one is incapacitated, they will cross over.”
"You think they would?" asked Patrice.
"I would," said Mr. Baine with a shrug. "I wonder how they make the determination? They're not the sort to discuss matters over a cup of tea ..."
"We can discuss that later," said Wendell, urging them onward. 

Keeping parallel to what they believed was the edge of the vampire's territory, the three of them hurried deeper into the shattered remains of Belfort-beyond-the-wall. They skirted a large building and crossed over the foundation of another, small portions of wall rising up from the earth like the craggy, rotten teeth of a giant. Patrice imagined a cavernous maw snapping closed on them as they walked and immediately wished she hadn't; the possibility of something like that happening felt all too real in this forsaken area.

Wendell, now in the lead, started to round another corner before pulling up sharply. Turning, he tapped his nose and pointed down a ruined street. After several tense moments of silence - at one point, Patrice could have sworn she heard a quiet hiss from somewhere in the shadows of the building opposite them - they started forward once more.

Sneaking through the streets on the other side of the walls – the 'safe' side - was a game compared to this, thought Patrice. Here, it feels as if the darkness itself will swallow us whole if we stand still for too long. Even the threat of violence at the hands of her uncle and his men had felt ... tame, compared to this. Possibly because there was nowhere they could feel safe out here. When you hid from a living, breathing human, there was a sense of exhilhiration at evading their senses, which was always a possibility; humans don't rely on their senses like they used to. But a relentless creature that's always hungry, hunting for food - it's never a question of 'if' you get caught, but 'when.' And given the poor state of the buildings they'd seen so far, Patrice didn't imagine it would take long. 

Her mind then took an unpleasant turn: What if someone - something - like Wendell was hunting them? Was there a chance the monk would turn on them? It seemed unlikely, given that he'd already risked his life to save her - and on multiple occasions. But Patrice had to admit that she barely knew anything about either of her companions. She wanted desperately to ask Wendell about his condition, but with things being so chaotic from the moment they'd met, it never seemed appropriate. It was clear to her that the monk was wrestling with demons; Patrice wanted to know what sort of threat he posed if he lost. If she was going to be traveling with them, it seemed only fair.

They exited an alley and found themselves on the edge of a rough clearing. This was not a natural clearing, nor had it been designed as an open space. This particular block had suffered greatly during the Prussian seige twenty years earlier. Now, low walls and piles of rubble served as the only remains of the structures that once filled the area. All gone now, save one surviving townhouse standing alone in the middle. And there, on the ground level, slipping between the ragged curtains that had been pulled closed and sneaking out through boards nailed across windows, the warm glow of a lantern danced defiantly in the hungry night.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Untitled: Chapter 15

The streets were far too empty and far too well-lit around the train station.

Wendell, being the fastest of the three despite his sandaled feet, tried to lead them away from the center of town, but the unfamiliar sights and smells of Belfort were unhelpful at best, disorienting at worst. Had they gotten a better head start on their pursuers, the trio could have easily turned a corner and been safely away, but the sound of their shoes striking the pavement alerted the posse whenever they happened to escape their sight for an all-too-brief moment. As they ran, Wendell looked for a place to hide, some nook or cranny that would allow Henri’s men to pass them by, but no suitable place could be found to conceal all three of them. Mr. Baine was breathing heavily and Patrice looked as if she might faint at any moment. They would not be able to maintain this pace for long. Wendell could only hope the men chasing them were as winded as these two appeared.

Rounding a corner, they found themselves running along the western bank of a river which bisected the city. A lazy mist had formed in the cool night air and now stirred sluggishly over the surface of the water.

Wendell cast his gaze, to the eastern shore, his sharp eyes picking out the bulk of a small mountain in the distance despite the haze. It was a mass of darkness rising into the moonlit sky, casting a deep shadow over the maze of buildings huddled at its base. It was less well-lit than the section of town they were currently in, having only the occasional glow from a street-corner lamp to offer any sort of definition to the area. A spark of hope kindled within him.

Wendell turned to lead Patrice and Mr. Baine across the nearest bridge and into the deeper shadows of Old-town Belfort. He had no plan, no idea where he was going, their pursuers always but a moment behind.

Passing into the shadows on the far side of the river, Wendell could feel the darkness envelop them, a cool veil of shadow that draped itself weightlessly over them. The men in pursuit stopped for a moment as the trio crossed from the fuzzy halo of light created by a handful of streetlights dotting the bridge; their eyes could not plumb the wall of darkness into which they ran.

Wendell’s ears noted the hesitation and he took the opportunity to steer Patrice and Mr. Baine off their road and on to another before Henri’s men crossed into the shadows and their vision could adjust to the deeper shadows. Another quick turn and Wendell brought them to a halt, trying to shush the pants and gasps of his companions as quietly as he was able, despite his own heaving breath.

The monk was doing his best to maintain focus, but his thoughts refused to fall in line. Damn it all. Do not think like this! Damn. it. A pang of guilt accompanied the repetition of the word, as it continued to bounce off the inside of his skull. DAMN it! Stop! A monk - a man of faith - should have more control of himself! But what was he supposed to do? He had no idea where he was going. They had gained a tiny reprieve from their pursuers, but could run into them again at any moment in the twisting darkness of the city. He hated feeling so … out of control? No, that wasn’t it. If he was out of control, people would be dying. He felt lost, but lost in a way that could not be rectified. He had to keep moving lest they be caught, but had no way of knowing if any turn he made was the right one and no way of correcting the mistake if it was not. Even the destination was a complete mystery. What should he do? Where should he go?

This would be so much easier if he were alone, but he could not abandon Mr. Baine and Patrice. They were his friends and he - wait, 'friends?' Wendell performed the mental equivalent of rolling a new taste around in his mouth. Was Patrice really a friend? A chance occurrence in the woods brought them together. He and Mr. Baine had saved her - as they would have saved anyone in that situation, honestly - and saw her safely home. She attempted to repay their kindness, as he imagined anyone in her position would have done. Was there more to it? Why did they go to such trouble to save her on the train? He certainly couldn't imagine more than a handful of people for whom he'd be willing to risk life and limb by climbing across the tops of railroad cars on a moving train.

And what of Mr. Baine? If he were honest, his relationship with the man was only a few weeks older than it was with Patrice. For a man like Wendell, who had been quick to make acqaintances, but slow to make friends, back before … in a past life. For all intents and purposes, he was putting his life at risk for a couple of strangers. Did that make them friends?

Yes, he decided after a moment that felt like an hour, they are both my friends. And they are in danger and I have to get them away from these men. He was the reason they were in this mess, the reason Mr. Baine had come to France and the reason Patrice’s uncle now hounded them. The thought gave Wendell a bitter smirk. Me, hounded. Then another question shouldered its way into his thoughts: would they remain friends if they really knew him? Knew what he was capable of? Just wait, the shadow inside him whispered, they'll see what we can do.

  “Where are we going?” Patrice, with her simple breathless question, would never know how grateful he was at that moment for interrupting his thoughts.
  “And how much further 'til we're there?” said Mr. Baine, less winded, but only slightly so.
  Wendell shook his head, “I do not know.” the words tasted sour and unpleasant. “I am sorry.”
  “Sorry? For what?” said Mr. Baine, “We're not dead yet, mate. And we appear to have slipped away, if only for a moment.”

Wendell appreciated his words, but could not relinquish his discouragement just yet, “I have no idea where to go.”

  Mr. Baine turned to Patrice, “Do you know this town?”
  She shook her head, “I know we're in Belfort. Beyond that, I am as lost as you.”
  “In a situation like this,” he said, turning back to Wendell, “I trust your nose more than a hunch either of us might have." 

Wendell started to reply, but Mr. Baine quickly added, "And if the nose fails, I've no doubt you have enough good karma saved up to see us through.” He concluded by giving the monk a single, firm pat on the shoulder. Wendell managed a weak smile, but inside a ball of ice had formed in the pit of his stomach. If anything, the scales of cosmic justice were tipped permanently against him.

  “We should go.” Patrice looked nervously toward the end of the alley in which they stood.

Wendell ventured ahead and peaked around the corner. A man stood in the dim light of a lone streetlamp roughly one block ahead of them, peering into the darkness around him. Wendell froze and then eased himself as flat against the wall as he was able. He was not sure if the man could see very far in the dark, but he did not want to take any chances, given his bright orange robes. Several unbearably loud heartbeats later and the man turned and ventured down another street. Wendell exhaled and led their small company out of the alley and away from the river.

He felt like they were traveling East, though he had no way to be certain. As the moved down the street, he realized that the dark mountain that he had seen before was now looming over them, a shadow in the night sky. Cautiously rounding another corner, the trio found themselves standing at the edge of a large clearing running up to the base of the mountain. There, on a raised dais in a circle of light, crouched a gigantic stone lion. The stone visage was regal and stern; it spoke to Wendell of power at hand, but a power held in check. Despite everything else that was happening, Wendell found a moment of quiet awe for the sight.

Despite all that was going on, he could not help but feel some small measure of insigificance standing there. An unpleasant shudder tainted the moment as he considered how his own beast, the one that struggled within, might be portrayed.

  “Le Lion de Belfort,” Patrice whispered, “He is facing West.”
  “What is to the West?” said Mr. Baine.
  “Nothing. It originally faced East, but the Prussians complained, and so it was turned around.”
  “East it is, then. I thought you were lost in Belfort?” There was a hint of suspicion in Mr. Baine's voice.
  “There's not a schoolchild in all of France who does not know of the lion.” Patrice said.
  Mr. Baine looked to Wendell. “Good enough for me,” said Wendell, “Let us go.”

They skirted the edge of the clearing, every footstep thunderous and echoing to their own ears. They could not keep this up for long. Wendell caught himself wishing that one of Henri’s men would spot them, if only to break the tension. Somehow, running headlong through the streets was beginning to feel preferable to sneaking about in the dark. He very nearly got his wish as they came upon a large intersection by a cathedral.

The red sandstone facade was illuminated, being some distance from the haze of the river, and stood out in crisp detail against the surrounding darkness. Wendell, thinking they might petition for sanctuary, began to step out of the shadows in which they were concealed when the hair on the back of his neck stood on end. He drew back and scanned the area, turning his eyes from the architecture to the dark streets and alleys that led to the church. Downwind from their position he caught sight of them: a handful of Henri's men crowding a door in the side of the cathedral. They appeared to be sneaking in. Had he blundered out from the darkened alley in which they crouched, they would have seen him clear as day. The church would offer no safe haven this night. Turning back, they continued in darkness, making sure to keep the mountain on their left.

Before long the mountain dropped off, giving way to a wall that extended from the base and curved in front of them. They began to follow the street which ran along the wall, apparently around the perimeter of the old city. Rounding a corner, Wendell stopped short.

  “What is it?” said Mr. Baine.
  “A gate.” said Wendell.
  “It is guarded.” For indeed, a pair of uniformed men carrying guns loitered by the opening in the wall. Mr. Baine uttered a quiet curse.
  “Surely they're not looking for us?” said Patrice. One of the men strolled past the gate, peering into the darkness beyond.

His companion asked a question – Wendell had no idea what – to which the first shook his head. Neither man seemed overly concerned with the streets behind them.

  “I do not think so.” said Wendell.
  Mr. Baine shook his head, “No, they're keeping people from getting in. Enforcing a curfew, perhaps.”
  “Let me talk to them,” said Patrice, “as long as they don't work for Henri, we should be fine.”

  The three of them advanced down the street, as quickly as they dared without appearing as though they were fleeing anyone. Wendell made a conscious effort not to glance nervously over his shoulder and hoped that Patrice and Mr. Baine would, as well.

  They were soon spotted and, while the men did not train their weapons on the three of them, certainly held them at the ready. Patrice stepped forward and spoke to them in French. They replied and a brief exchange took place. Wendell dared breathe a sigh of relief at the fact that the men did not attempt to apprehend them outright. His hopes were held in check, however, by the incredulous look each man wore as Patrice replied to their last question. A firm shake of the head from one of the men told him all he needed to know, this was not going as smoothly as he'd hoped. Patrice turned back to them.

  “They are with the city watch,” she said, “Apparently, when the Prussians attacked Belfort and were eventually repelled, the ruins caused by the siege became overrun with vampires. The portion of the city beyond the wall is off limits to all but the military until it is reclaimed.”
  “I'm afraid we can't wait that long," said Mr. Baine, "Did you explain that we can take care of ourselves?”
  “I did, but they are not keen to have blood on their hands.” Patrice sighed, “They think we're crazy for even asking.”
  “Tell them we are part of the reclamation effort.” said Wendell.
  “No one's going to believe that,” Mr. Baine rolled his eyes. “You look like an escaped circus peformer,” he said, nodding at Wendell. He stepped past them and raised his leather satchel to the nearest watchman, who simply stared back. “Here, take this,” he said.

Setting the butt of his rifle on the ground, the man tucked the barrel into the crook of his arm and reached up to hold the bag with both hands while his companion stared at the bag, puzzled. As soon as the man had taken hold of the bag, Mr. Baine reached into his jacket and whipped out his pistol, aiming it between the eyes of the unencumbered watchman standing nearby.

The four of them - Wendell, Patrice, and the two watchmen – were utterly stunned.

  “Now my dear,” Mr. Baine said to Patrice, gently sliding the resting rifle from the arms of the man holding his bag, “kindly retrieve my bag and ask this gentleman to open the gate, ” he cocked the hammer on the pistol, “for his friend's sake.”

Patrice shook herself from her stupor and stammered the request to the watchman. Wendell could the see fear, anger, and confusion in his eyes as he produced a large key and fumbled it into the lock that held closed a gate made of heavy iron bars. Inside the arch, a short drawbridge was raised, leaving a gap roughly twice the height of a man between it and the bridge that lay beyond. Barely wide enough to accommodate a carriage, the bridge spanned what Wendell first took to be an empty moat.


  Leaning sideways he could see that it was not in fact a moat, but a depression that would put invaders well below the handful of gates set in the sloped walls …

  “What? Sorry.”
  “The bridge appears to operate on a simple weight-driven mechanism.” Mr. Baine nodded towards a lever set in the wall opposite him, “Do you mind?”
Wendell stepped across the opening and pulled the lever. Somewhere behind the stonework, a set of gears clanked, a chain rattled, and the drawbridge lowered into place with a wooden thud.

A shout went up behind them. All five of them turned to see Henri's men come charging down the street. Patrice joined Wendell on the far side of the gate, while Mr. Baine grabbed his bag from the watchmen and, touching the barrel of his pistol to the rim of his bowler, said “Adieu” to the watchmen and bolted down the bridge after them, tossing the rifle over the edge as he went.

The soliders did not give chase. Instead from the yelling taking place behind them, Wendell surmised that the watchmen were refusing to give way to Henri’s men. Despite all that was happening, he hoped that no one would do something foolish and hurt someone.

On the far end of the bridge rose a squat earthen structure, the walls of which were fortified with stone. The road they followed led right into it and, as there were hardly any working streetlights on this side of the wall, promptly made a sharp right-angle into pitch-black shadow. Where the shadows inside the walls had been a welcome sight and offered an opportunity for rest and escape, now Wendell found himself feeling apprehensive about what the darkness outside the city held for them. He tried to use his nose, but the breeze was carrying their scent into the pass, and refused to offer up any clue as to a possible ambush. He came to an abrupt stop, just beside the shadowed corner.

  “Why are we stopping?” asked Patrice.
  Wendell was finding it hard to articulate precisely why he was so apprehensive. “I do not like this …”
  ”Like it or not, our options are extremely limited at the moment.” said Mr. Baine.

Another yell caused them to look back at the gate. Two of Henri’s men had slipped past the watchmen and were advancing across the bridge. They paused uncertainly as Wendell, Mr. Baine and Patrice turned towards them, still well out of reach. That was when the vampire attacked.

Leaping from the darkness with little more than a rasping hiss, the creature wrapped itself around Wendell, who had been in the lead and standing closest to the shadows. The monk’s training took over and he used the momentum of the attack to carry the vampire over his shoulder, narrowly avoiding having his ear bitten off, and slammed it to the ground. But Patrice and Mr. Baine were still standing next to him, there was no way he could release it without endangering either of them. Both the men on the bridge and those standing at the gate stared in open-mouthed shock at the ensuing struggle.

The vampire, having gone head over heels, slashed at its prey with bony fingers and elongated nails, the result of its emaciated state. Wendell, struggling to keep it pinned to the ground by the shoulders, tried to maintain control as he avoided the wild strikes and gnashing teeth. A bony elbow caught him in the cheek; the sudden shock of the strike quickly turned into a red rage within him, bubbling up from his gut. He wanted to hurt the vampire, he wanted to rip it apart with tooth and claw. He wanted to hurt those standing around doing nothing, so weak and helpless … No, he didn't want that at all - it was the beast, straining at its chains. If he didn’t do something - and quickly - they would all be in grave danger.

Wendell stepped around the prone form of the vampire, grabbed it’s other shoulder and jerked it to it’s feet. Continuing the motion, he fell backwards, rolling smoothly onto his back and, placing his feet on the vampire’s midsection, launched it with inhuman strength down the bridge. It landed with a sickening crunch halfway between them and the pair of Henri’s men who had made their way onto the bridge.

Unfazed, albeit slightly disoriented, the vampire got to its feet and hissed angrily at Wendell. It had not expected supper to withstand its initial assault. Flexing its sharp fingers, it took a step towards Patrice - perhaps she would be easier prey.

  “No time for this.” said Mr. Baine, as he stepped forward and leveled his pistol. There was a thunderous crack and a puff of smoke as hammer struck firing pin and a howl of pain echoed in the night. Behind the vampire, the man closest to it crumpled to the ground clutching his leg.

Everyone, including the vampire, looked at the man as he lifted a trembling, blood-covered hand to inspect the oozing hole in his leg. Only then did he realize his mistake. A decrepit blur of teeth and claws descended upon him before anyone could react.

  “Run!” said Mr. Baine, charging into the darkness.

Wendell, the urges within him dying along with the man’s screams, looked at Patrice. The girl emitted a single choked sob - fear? disgust? anger? Wendell wasn’t sure if those words described the girl running past him, or his own feelings at what just happened.

As he turned to follow his companions, the monk looked back just in time to see the surviving man on the bridge reach the gate and slam it shut behind him. All of them, Henri's men and the Belfort watchmen, stared in horrified silence while the creature fed. No one else would be crossing the bridge this night. Then, offering a brief, silent prayer for the dead man, Wendell headed once more into the darkness to see what new horrors this journey held in store for him.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Untitled: Chapter 14

“If Patrice is on the train, then so is her uncle.” said Mr. Baine.

“Is this a warning, or a plea for help?” said Wendell, holding up the napkin. Despite their modest accommodations in the foremost passenger car of the train, he was grateful for the noise of the engine which helped to obscure their conversation.

“Depends. Obviously, Patrice knows we're on the train. The question is: does Henri? If so, I think he would have acted by now; he did not strike me as a man of patience.”

“Do not forget, there was another man with them.”

Mr. Baine nodded, “Merely an assistant or hired help of some sort, if we're fortunate ...”

“An officer of the peace, if we are not.” Wendell finished the thought.

“Or an assassin. Honestly, I'd prefer dealing with an assassin,” said Mr. Baine.

“Why on earth would you prefer dealing with a professional killer over the law?”

Mr. Baine shrugged, “Nobody's going to ask questions if an assassin goes missing. Nature of the profession and all that.”

Wendell sighed. “That aside, what are we going to do about Patrice?”

“I take it your assessment of the situation is that she needs rescued?”

“You feel otherwise?”

“As I said, it all depends on what Henri knows. That determines if Patrice’s role in this is merely as a hostage or as bait.”

“Either way, she needs help.” said Wendell, “I will not ask you to put yourself in harm’s way, but we should have a plan.”

“Indeed.” Mr. Baine paused for a moment, lost in thought; Wendell imagined he could hear the gears turning within his skull. His mind wondered a tiny bit further and he remarked to himself that Mr. Baine was a man whose gears were probably always turning and, therefore, well-oiled and deathly silent in their continual spinning.

“Allow me to try and glean some information from the conductor,” said Mr. Baine, “The more information we have, the better our chance of success.” With that, he rose and stepped past Wendell into the aisle. Seeing that the conductor was not in their car, Mr. Baine made his way out the back and further down the train.

Wendell leaned back in his seat. He tried to focus his thoughts, to contemplate the situation in calm objectivity, but his mind was a tempest. Complications seemed to be arising unexpectedly and of their own volition - all centered around this young woman he and Mr. Baine had happened across in the forest a mere two days ago.

The monk closed his eyes and modulated his breathing using a technique honed by years of practice in the temple. After a few short minutes of this, he began to feel the ebb and flow of time begin to slow and the noisy clattering rumble of the train fall away; he began to experience a sensation of weightlessness, as if his body were floating inches above the padded bench on which he sat. He was aware of the sensations generated by his surroundings - the noise and pressure of the physical world. But at the same time he was outside of it all, as if existing at a different frequency.

His consciousness flowed and extended into every part of his body. There was a swirling blue sensation as he passed through his wounded shoulder down into the left arm. It was still tender, but almost completely healed. A small scar, no bigger than the bullet which had passed through his body, would be all that remained of the injury before long. Wendell had to begrudgingly admit - though he would never utter the words to his companion - that, yes, sometimes the burden he carried had its benefits. The cost, through, was something with which he would never be at peace.

Wendell felt the pressure in the car change slightly as the door in the back was opened. He finished settling back into himself, felt the weight of stress and the heaviness of his heart settle upon him once more, as Mr. Baine made his unsteady way up the center aisle.

“I have news” said Mr. Baine, falling into his seat, “First, the train will not arrive in Belfort until well past sundown. Unless we plan to jump from a moving train in broad daylight, we'll have to wait, whatever out course of action.”

“It may come to that,” said Wendell, who noticed the serious look his companion still wore, “There is something else, though.”

A grave nod from Mr. Baine. “There's an exciting bit of gossip floating around involving an eccentric man of means purchasing tickets for an entire passenger car near the rear of the train. Apparently, that car is filled with a rather crude collection of men, much to the dismay of some of the other gentlefolk who've had to pass through them in order to reach the dining car.”

Wendell felt a sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach, “That … complicates matters.

“It does indeed.”


Patrice sat, staring out the single large window of their passenger cabin, and waited. There was little else she could do. The boy in the dining car had not been able to speak with her directly upon his return, as Georges had returned to the table. A quick glance as the lad re-entered the dining car rewarded her with a with a skittish nod. She could only assume that her message - if it could even be considered as such - had been received.

But would it be understood? Mr. Baine struck her as a clever man and Wendell was … Wendell. What did that mean? Patrice was not entirely sure. She considered the monk for a moment, he was certainly unique - a white man from the West who spent a number years living in the Far East, struggling with some curse that threatened to turn him into a monster - but there was more to it than that. Wendell had a presence about him that few possessed.

She remembered their first encounter in the forest; the stoicism he maintained while facing a soulless predator. Even afterward, as he struggled with the change that began to creep over him during the heat of battle, he demonstrated a determination to stay in control of himself. But, did that uniqueness occur because of his condition, or in spite of it?

A rustle of paper drew her gaze as Henri turned the page of a newspaper he had picked up on his way back from the parlor car. Across from him - beside her - Georges snored quietly in the corner. Patrice turned back to the window and continued to wait as the sun began to descend. She waited as the vineyards of the southern Champagne turned into rolling fields of barley and alfalfa. She waited as the fields gave way to foothills, dotted with dense stands of pine. Stars began to reveal themselves in the night sky and still she waited.

No signs had been witnessed, no extra-ordinary happenings or covert messages of any kind manifested. Patrice was losing hope. Perhaps they had not gotten her message and she had mistaken the serving boy’s attempt to be discrete. Perhaps they could not decipher any deeper meaning in a dirty napkin being presented to them seemingly at random. What if they had already tried to rescue her and failed? They might have attempted to pass through Henri’s thugs congregated in the passenger car ahead of them and gotten captured or, worse yet, killed. There was no commotion, though, no breathless messenger banging on their door with news of any sort, so it seemed unlikely.

A cold knot developed in the pit of her stomach and, with the passing of each uneventful hour, grew like a snowball tumbling slowly down a hill. What if nothing was happening because nothing was being done? What if Wendell and Mr. Baine were simply done with Patrice and did not want to risk encountering Henri? She had nothing to contribute to their journey and offered only the risk of being killed for their trouble. What sane person would come for her under these circumstances?

A knock at the door nearly caused Patrice to jump out of her skin. She did her best to maintain the look of bored despair she had settled into for the last couple of hours, lest any hint be given to either of her traveling companions of who - or what, she suddenly realized - may be waiting on the other side of the door. Sure enough, Henri, who had glanced up at the sound, turned to scrutinize her. Patrice tried to look as defeated as she felt, up until a few seconds ago; the last thing she wanted her uncle to see was an ounce of hope in her posture, her face or even her eyes.

Apparently satisfied with what he saw - or failed to see - Henri nodded to Georges, who was now awake, albeit drowsy. Slowly, the hired man stood and reached for the door. He gripped the knob, braced himself slightly, and turned it. Patrice could feel the quiet intake of her breath choked off by her heart, which suddenly felt as if it had jumped up into her throat. The door opened at a glacial pace to reveal ...

“Bonsoir,” said the conductor, with artificial cheer, “We shall be arriving at Belfort within the hour.”

While Georges and Henri visibly relaxed, Patrice deflated like a balloon. There would be no rescue attempt; no one had come for her and no one would. She spent what remained of the trip willing herself to not cry in front of her uncle.


Eventually, the mournful wail of the train’s whistle drifted back to them, and they felt the gentle push that came with the gradual application of the brakes as they entered Belfort. Henri rose immediately, opened the door and braced himself within the frame.

“I will be the first off this train,” he said, answering the puzzled looks of both Georges and Patrice, “Georges, you stay in the cabin with Patrice and make sure she does not leave this room!”

“We're not going with you?” said Georges. His disappointment at the prospect of having to stay in the small stuffy, cabin was poorly disguised.

Henri snorted. “After you nearly let her escape at the last stop? I think not.” He shook his head, “No, you will lock the door behind me. No one enters or leaves until I return from searching the station.” Georges nodded sullenly.

“You didn't see them in Troyes, uncle,” said Patrice, “What makes you think they are now in Belfort.”

“I was distracted in Troyes,” Henri said, an edge to his voice, “You'll not interfere again.”

“I thought you would not let me out of your sight again,” said Patrice, falling into the familiar tone with which she often goaded her uncle.

“Priorities, niece.” he said, “I will see to it that there is a reckoning - first for them, then for you.”

With a final loud hiss, the train rolled to a stop at the Belfort train station. Henri stepped into the hallway and turned back to Georges.

“Remember, keep this door locked. Do not let any-”

The cabin grew dim for a split second before the exterior window exploded inward, filling the air with crystalline shrapnel. A figure came swinging in through the window. Covering her face for fear of the flying shards of glass, Patrice could just barely make out a bright orange blur as it collided, feet first, with Georges. The door to the cabin, which opened into the room, banged shut as his limp form slammed against it and crumpled to the floor with a sigh. Henri was knocked back into the hallway as the door slammed - quite literally - on his face.

Wendell got to his feet, carefully shaking bits of glittering glass from among the orange folds of his robes.

“Are you hurt?” he asked.

Patrice, stunned into silence by the sudden transition from unexpected terror to overwhelming relief, could only stammer incoherently. Despite barely knowing the man, Patrice had never been so happy to see someone in her entire life.

The spell was broken by a pounding at the door, which elicited from her a surprised gasp. The door moved in a few inches, but was prevented from opening by the unconscious body of Georges.

“Help! My niece is being abducted!” Henri shoved against the door once more, creating just enough of a gap to get part of one arm into the room. His hand resembled less the appendage of a civilized man than the grasping claw of a savage as the curling fingers flailed blindly next to her. More quietly than his plea for help, Henri pressed his face to the opening and snarled at Georges, “Wake up, you fool! Get out of the way!”

Wendell took Patrice by the hand and led her towards the window where the crown of a nondescript brown bowler bobbed impatiently.

“Hurry girl,” said Mr. Baine, “We're pressed for time!”

Another thump behind them, and Henri had gotten his head and shoulder through the door. He pointed at Wendell.

“Murderer!” he yelled, “You'll not escape justice this time!”

Wendell pulled his cloak down from where it had been tied and used to swing into the cabin. He used it to cover the jagged lower edge of the window and turned, extending a hand to Patrice.

“Wait!” Patrice stepped towards her uncle, grabbed the extended finger and twisted it sideways with a quiet pop. Henri’s eyes went wide in shock; a howl of rage and pain split the air. He began to thrash about.

“Harlot! Sow! You are dead! DEAD!”

Wendell quickly scooped Patrice into his arms and passed her through the window to Mr. Baine. A moment later and she was safely on the ground.

“Hurry!” The monk hopped out after them, and they ran for the nearest exit. Patrice could feel the eyes of everyone in the station upon them. She prayed that the crowd would be so dumbfounded by the spectacle that no one would think to prevent their escape.

“MURDERERS! YOU WILL HANG!” Suddenly, the attention they had gotten from people in the station was drawn back to the train. Henri had gained the cabin and was now leaning as far out the window as he could, his broken finger cradled gently to his chest. “Stop them, you idiots!”

From around the back of the train, brandishing cudgels and knives, nearly a dozen of Henri’s men came charging after them.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Untitled: Chapter 13

Patrice sat in numb disbelief as her uncle devoured his meal with aplomb, his appetite apparently stimulated by his recent … what? What exactly had he done? He left with Pierre, then returned alone. Thrown him from the train, she surmised. But she had witnessed nothing directly. Assuming there was anyone Patrice could report the incident to, she was sure Henri would talk his way out of the situation. Perhaps he would claim the young man attacked him or something equally ridiculous, but his easy lies and his money would see him safely through as it had so many times before.

  “You have barely touched your food, niece,” Henri said, interrupting her thoughts, “Is it not to your liking?” Even seemingly casual comments from the man were delivered tipped with venom.
Patrice wanted to reply - possibly even scream at him at the top of her lungs - but whatever words she would have formed seemed to catch in her throat, so she merely shook her head.
  “Nothing ever is.”
Patrice said nothing. Henri, seeing that his insult would not provoke a reaction, continued, “I must say, while the cuisine is no match for the meals I enjoy back in Paris, the food here is surprisingly adequate. Perhaps if you will not eat, Georges here will be happy to finish it for you.”
Patrice contemplated the man dining next to her. There, Georges sat, his arm curled protectively around his plate as he sat hunched over what remained of his meal. His table manners left much to be desired, but Patrice found that she really was not offended; he was not trying to be rude, the man simply did not know any better. A quick glance around the dining car, though, showed that not everyone felt as magnanimous.
Georges seemed unfazed by the attention he was getting, if indeed he was aware of the unflattering stares at all. She gathered that this meal was a rare opportunity for Georges, and he was going to make the most of it. She found herself wondering what sort of meals the man was used to. Under normal circumstances, Henri would never have offered to buy food for an employee, much less be seen in polite company with a common laborer. But his determination to keep Patrice on a tight leash won out over any concern he had about any gossip among his peers of sharing a table with hired help. She also could not help but wonder if the high spirits of her uncle after Pierre’s disappearance had prompted him into a moment of uncharacteristic generosity.
Lunch was nearly finished when Patrice noticed that the gentlemen from the surrounding tables were excusing themselves and moving to the next car up in the train. Henri had noticed it as well, and it was having a strange effect on him.
  “Where are they going?” she asked.
  “There's a parlor car in front of this one. They are going for an after-meal cigar, I wager,” he said, his eyes quickly scanning each of the finely-dressed men as they moved past.
Patrice finally realized what was happening with her uncle. If there was one thing closer to his heart than the desire to avenge his dear departed daughter, it was money. The men headed to the parlor car were, in all probability, wealthy businessmen - potential clients or future partners in a new venture - and Henri was weighing the cost of staying behind to keep his niece under his thumb.

Henri turned to regard Georges, who was still eating. He frowned. “I have decided to join them. Finish up and take her back to the room.” Mouth full, Georges could only nod in reply.

  “You're not afraid I will escape again?” Patrice said.

  “You didn't escape,” said Henri, more concerned with getting into the parlor than sparring with her yet again, “Besides, I will be on the car ahead of you, and my men are but a car or two behind us - not to mention the fact that we are on a moving train.” That said, he rose from the table and fell into step behind the group of men making their way out of the dining car. Patrice slumped back in her chair, folded her arms and expelled a quiet sigh of frustration. As much as she hated to admit it, her uncle was right; she could see no way out of her present situation.
The remaining diners were finishing their meals and began to leave the dining car. Two boys in aprons, waiters’ assistants, began cleaning the tables. One of the boys, working on the table next to where Georges and Patrice sat, turned and asked if he could remove Henri’s setting.
  “Is there a bar on this train?” George said. The question was a surprise to both the boy and Patrice.
  “Y-Yes sir,” said the boy, “in the parlor car.”
  “Could you fetch me a beer? If so, I have a franc for you.” said Georges. He caught Patrice staring at him in disbelief. “I'm paid to do a great many things, but I've never been paid enough to pass up a beer. I doubt even your uncle has that kind of money.”
  The boy glanced around, no one seemed to be paying any attention to the conversation. “I … suppose I could,” he said, “What kind would you like?”
  “What're my options?”
  “I honestly don't know, sir, but you can see the bar from the window in the door, if you like.”
  Georges started to stand, but caught himself mid-movement and turned to regard Patrice. “Will you stay put?”
  Patrice shrugged, “As my uncle has pointed out, where can I go?”
  Georges' brow furrowed as he briefly contemplated the situation, nodding to himself as he reached a conclusion. “I only need a moment,” he said, walking towards the door in the far corner that connected the dining car with the parlor.
A spark of hope flared briefly within Patrice. This was an opportunity! But what could she do? Where could she go? Her eyes sped across the dining car and finally came to rest on the plate of half-eaten food in front of her. An idea occurred to her.

“Boy,” said she, whispering, “I have a very import favor to ask of you.”


There was a cheerful fire providing light to the room. The woman sitting beside it was beautiful - for some reason that thought stood out to him; her beauty was familiar, but only rarely contemplated. The lamp on the table next to her gave her skin a ethereal glow. He wondered if the woman knew how beautiful he found her and resolved to tell her more. She was reading a book to a pair of children, one nestled on each side of her. It was an idyllic scene and he stood watching it, fearing that the slightest movement or sound sound might cause it to evaporate suddenly. The three of them stopped their reading to look at him; her gaze was warm and inviting and the children smiled. At first.

Warmth was gradually replaced with puzzlement, which then quickly gave way to fear. What was wrong? He started to move towards her. The children buried their faces in her side, clutching at their stuffed animals and blankets. She was panicked and opened her mouth, drawing a deep breath. She was going to scream. He felt himself rush upon them as they cowered, falling upon them like a tidal wave of darkness.

  “P-pardon moi, sir?”
Anger and sadness and fear and loss ...


The smell of food.


Something struck his arm.

  “Wake up!”

Wendell sat up with a start and looked around. Beside him, Mr. Baine wore an expression that was equal parts annoyance and concern.

  “Bad dream?” he said.
  Wendell nodded.
  “You were growling in your sleep.”
Wendell felt the blood drain from his face as he looked at his traveling companion.
  “I thought it was funny, at any rate.” Mr. Baine shrugged, then raised a finger to point past Wendell to the aisle running next to him. Standing there was a boy in an apron looking terribly uncertain. “This young man would like to speak with you.”
  “Me?” Wendell looked at the boy, “Can I help you?”
  “I was asked to give you something, monsieur,” he reached into a pocket on the front of his apron and fished out a dirty napkin.
The monk could only imagine the look of confusion he wore as he plucked it from the boy’s hand, but it could not be helped. “Who asked you to bring this to me?”

  “I don't know her name, monsieur,” the boy looked as confused as he felt, “A young woman, in the dining car. She asked me to deliver this to you. She described your 
  orange robes specifically.”
  “Is that all?” Mr. Baine asked.
  “Oui. She said the man in the orange robes would know what to do.”
  “Was she alone?”
  The boy shook his head, “There were two men with her, an older gentleman and another besides.”
  “Two men and a young woman ...” Mr. Baine rubbed at the stubble on his chin.
  “Please, monsieur, I must return to the dining car …”
  “You have done as you were asked, thank you.” Wendell gave a nod, giving the boy leave to hurry out the back of the car.
  “I must say, courting rituals among the French certainly leave something to be desired.” Mr. Baine quipped.
  “This makes no sense,” said Wendell.
  "It's not even clean."
  “It is a message of some sort - a message that could not be written out, spoken or delivered in person for some reason.”
  "Not an environment conducive to messages, then.” said Mr. Baine. “There must also have been a risk of interception ... Perhaps her handlers would disapprove of her contacting you?”
Even without holding it to his nose, Wendell could smell the residue of rich food still clinging to the napkin. The odors prompted his stomach to rumble in discontentment, reminding him of the full breakfast they had enjoyed just this morning, and of the lunch they could not afford but a few hours later. And then, just now, was that the smell of … ? Wendell slowly raised the napkin to his nose and inhaled deeply.

  “What is it?” Mr. Baine had sensed the shift in his companion, puzzlement replaced by tension.
  “She is here,” Wendell said, “Patrice is on the train.”

Monday, January 11, 2016

Untitled: Chapter 12

If the train ride from to Paris to Troyes had been uncomfortable before, it was unbearable now - thanks in no small part to the tension added by the presence of the young soldier. In order to accommodate Pierre in the small room, and also as punishment for nearly allowing Patrice to escape, Claude had to rejoin his companions in their reserved passenger car further up the train. The man had been surprisingly enthusiastic about the demotion.

The room now contained Pierre, Patrice, Georges, and Henri himself, who made no effort to hide his displeasure at the sudden change to his travel plans. Despite this, he managed to keep his thoughts to himself. A frosty silence has descended upon the cabin, which was just as well for Patrice, as her own thoughts had yet to extend beyond ‘What now?’

She had given up her best - and possibly only - chance of eluding her uncle. The action had not been without purpose, but the solace that provided was tempered by the fact that yet another person had been ensnared in her mess of a life. She found herself stealing the occasional glance over at the uniformed young man sharing her seat. He was not unattractive; given different circumstances, a little flirtation would not have been out of the question ... Patrice shook the thought from her head; romance was most certainly not going to improve matters; at best it would be a waste of time better spent devising a plan of escape.

Patrice reviewed the facts of her current situation: She was on the last car of a moving train, personally guarded by her uncle and one of his hired men; Wendell and Mr. Baine sat oblivious to her presence on the first car; between them was a car full of Henri’s thugs, whose very presence was to help him capture - and kill, in all probability - the two men.

Despite the presence of the solider, she could not seem to factor him into the equation. He was an anomaly, a random element that Patrice suddenly realized she was thinking around. She wondered if her uncle were having similar thoughts about the man as he sat and plotted.

An hour after their departure from Troyes, the ice finally broke.

“Where are your parents?” The question, indeed, the sound of a voice at all, come so unexpectedly that the remaining three occupants of the cabin found themselves starting uncomprehendingly at an increasingly red Pierre.
Patrice’s mind finally processed the question and realized it was she who had been addressed. “My mother is back in Paris with my aunt. My father died in the war when I was little.”
“I'm sorry to hear it.” said Pierre, who then turned to Henri, “Did you serve in the war, monsieur?”
“Briefly.” Henri sniffed.
“Were you there when Paris fell?”
“I happened to be deployed elsewhere at the time.” said Henri, looking out the window.
“I see.” said Pierre. Henri turned to regard the young man; Patrice noted that his eyes narrowed the slightest bit. He took a breath, but Patrice jumped in before her uncle could reply.
“What led you to join the Gendarmerie Nationale?”
Pierre’s ears flushed crimson. “You will think me a fool …” (this prompted a snort from Henri, which he either missed or graciously ignored) “but I grew up hearing women speak of their fondness for the uniformed men … ” Patrice smiled, despite herself. The soldier continued, “In all seriousness, living so close to the border - on the heels of a war, no less - I grew up on the stories of soldiers and being told the importance of a strong military. Enlisting was a natural progression. Only, these days it's not Prussians we're on guard against, but the undead.”

Patrice hesitated before she asked her next question, but decided that it needed to be asked, “Have you encountered any? Vampires, I mean.”

Henri and even Georges, who had been doing his best to appear interested in a book he found somewhere, looked to see what the soldier’s reaction would be. To his credit, Pierre seemed to be perfectly comfortable discussing the matter. “Just once, on a rural patrol. Wretched thing. Putting it down was an act of mercy, though I cannot claim to have delivered the fatal blow. Like most of France’s troubles of late, they seem to have come from the east. Unfortunately, they are not yet considered enough of a threat that the gendarmerie will dedicate the resources needed to eradicating them. Why do you ask?”

“My cousin was killed by a vampire.” The reply escaped her lips before Patrice could give any thought to how her uncle would react.
“NO!” Henri erupted, “Those men you brought into my house killed my daughter! Do not lie to this man to assuage your conscience.” Had the tiny room not been so cramped, he might have stood. As it was, her uncle contended himself with leaning forward to thrust an accusatory finger at his niece.
“How can something that is dead be killed?” Patrice sat forward herself. Perhaps if she could convince him of Camille’s death earlier that cursed evening, then he would call off his blind quest for revenge.
“Because they are not dead - they are infected, you foolish girl! If they were truly dead, then they would not need blood to sustain themselves, would they? Dead things do not eat, they are dead! There are many prominent thinkers who say that the affliction can be cured, especially if the infection was recent.”
Patrice tried to alter her uncle’s momentum, “So you admit that Camille had been turned?”
“I admit that whether she was a vampire or not, those villains had no right to kill her - in my own house, no less! Ignoring everything else, the fact remains, Patrice, that you brought it all to my door!”
“Are you angry because you lost your daughter, or because something unpleasant has occurred in your house?” Patrice said, throwing herself back in her seat and crossing her arms. She knew her uncle despised a particular affectation she sometimes used when she was being belligerent - a tone of voice combined with a shaking of her head - and she made sure to use it now, “You're not angry, nor are you sad - you fear a scandal. The neighbors’ gossip is what you fear.”
Henri was apoplectic. “You insolent little … !” he moved to strike her. Suddenly, Pierre was standing between them, preventing the blow. Henri sputtered; Georges sat up, but made no move against the solider.
“That is enough,” despite the situation, the young man was remarkably composed and maintained a calm - but firm - tone, as he leveled his gaze at the businessman, “I have been tasked with this girl’s safety. You may not strike her. Remember, sir, that I am under orders to give a report of this journey to my commanding officer. I don't think he will react kindly to more evidence of your tendency towards striking young women.”
“I .. I …” Henri was off-balance and floundered. He finally decided to shut his mouth and sat chewing the inside of his cheek for a moment. Pierre remained where he was, ready to weigh the response to come. When Henri next spoke, his voice was in that carefully even tone that always made Patrice uneasy, “I apologize. Clearly, the recent loss of my daughter is causing me no end of torment. I have allowed this girl to manipulate me.” He produced a heavy sigh. “With your permission, I would like to step out to the rear platform. I think the fresh air would help me regain my composure.“

Pierre sat down, allowing Henri room to move, “I think that is an excellent idea.”
Henri stood and made his way to the door. Just before he stepped out of the room, he turned to Pierre and said, “I wonder if you would be willing to join me, perhaps for a smoke? Some polite conversation would be most welcome.”
“I'll go with you, boss,” said Georges, moving to join Henri.
“No,” said Henri, “I asked Pierre to join me.” Georges looked somewhat crestfallen, as he sat back in his seat.
Pierre turned to Patrice. “Are you okay with this?”
Patrice shrugged and nodded, “I will be fine.”
The soldier stood and followed Henri out the door, heading for the rear of the train. Patrice glanced over at Georges, who was wearing a frown.
“Why do you work for him?” she said.
Georges shrugged, “Need the money.”
“But, he is so mean.”
“Guys like me don't have a lot of options when it comes to work. A mean boss that pays well is better than a good boss who don't - or no boss at all.”
“I see.”
“No disrespect, mademoiselle, but you don't see. Not at all.” It was clear that Georges did not want to pursue the discussion further. 

Several minutes of awkward silence passed before the sudden opening of the door startled them both. Her uncle, his hair in disarray, stepped in and picked up the bag of Pierre’s belongings and disappearing again. A brief moment later, he returned. Alone and in high spirits.

“Where is Pierre?” A sick, cold feeling began to percolate in Patrice’s stomach.
“After discussing the matter, Pierre has decided to part ways with us.” Henri said, straightening his hair.
“You … paid him to leave?”
“I didn't have to.” Henri tried and failed to suppress a wicked smile.
“But … his report!” Patrice could not believe, according to the evidence available, had just transpired.
Henri nodded gravely, then brightened as he said, “I have graciously offered to submit the report on his behalf.”
Patrice felt on the verge of tears when a knock at the door suddenly drew the attention of everyone in the room. The tension became palpable as Henri nodded to Georges, who, after a moment’s hesitation, stood and opened the door to find the conductor standing before him. Then tension became even more unbearable as he looked around Georges, then said, “I was given to believe that there were four passengers in this cabin?”
“There were, but our companion decided to get off in Troyes. Not a fan of trains, it seems.” said Henri.
“Ah, well. I just wanted to let you know that lunch has been prepared in the dining car.”
“Excellent. Thank you.” said Henri. With that, the man moved to the next door to repeat the procedure.
“Well,” said Henri, glancing around “Are either of you as hungry as I?”