Henri just missed grabbing a handful of hair as he stepped off the train. It took a moment for Claude to react to what was happening. Disbelief registered plainly on his tired features but was quickly chased away, as he himself began to give chase.
Those standing near the last car turned to see what the noise was about. Since the commotion was nearly unintelligible and easily missed in the noisy hustle and bustle of a full train station platform, the ruckus did not provoke much of a reaction. The fancy couple and the group of women, however, watched with nervous interest.
With a narrow lead - no more than a few steps at most - Patrice weaved in and out of the numerous bodies before her, trying to find the nearest station exit. The steam was starting to dissipate, but, coupled with the dense crowd and her limited stature, still managed to disorient her to the point that she was not sure which direction she should be running. At last, a glimpse of a doorway just ahead lifted her spirits. Patrice did not even care where it led, if she could just get through it without Henri’s goons noticing …
A rough hand landed heavily on her shoulder. She tried to squirm out from under it, but the fingers dug painfully into her collarbone; the sensation caused her eyes to water and her knees to buckle. She was caught, her hope of escaping suddenly becoming even less substantial than the steamy haze in which she stood. A moment passed and the hand lifted away. Patrice looked around to discover that the rest of Henri’s men had caught up to them and had encircled her.
Henri, just now catching up, breathlessly shoved his way into the small ring of bodies to stand before her. Red with rage, he raised his hand. Patrice flinched, but the blow never came. She was suddenly aware of someone standing behind her.
“What is going on here?” Patrice turned to find a man wearing the uniform and insignia of an officer of the Gendarmerie Nationale standing there, glancing around at the group of men, his gaze coming to rest heavily on Henri. She wondered how he could appear so casual standing in the middle of group that was, in all probability, hostile. She then caught sight of several more uniforms hovering around the periphery of the circle. The man was not alone. Unlike Henri’s mismatched gang, these men were all of a robust build and moved confidently. No lackeys they, but trained soldiers.
The crimson flush of Henri’s features receded noticeably, but his ears remained bright pink. It was as if the rage was being drained from him, though Patrice knew better.
Slowly, stiffly, his hand fell to his side. “My niece was nearly killed in a riding accident at a young age. The experience addled her brain and made her prone to fits of hysteria.” He spoke in a voice so calm and level that it caused a chill to run down Patrice’s spine in a way that his yelling never had. “Since my own blessed child passed away, she is the closest thing to a daughter I have left, so we are headed to Munich to see a specialist. The poor thing isn't used to traveling abroad, and tried to run off on her own.”
The officer snorted derisively. “A Bavarian specialist. Is there such a thing?” He nodded to the men circling the three of them, “And it takes this many men to escort a single girl?” His skepticism was evident, but not unassailable.
“She is a handful, I will admit.” The pinkness was gone from Henri’s ears now, and his posture relaxed a little, “But no, I am also conducting business there, and do not trust foreign hands to respect my property.” Damn our family’s ability to lie, Patrice thought.
“And she will corroborate this?” The officer said, turning to Patrice, but keeping and sharp eye on her uncle.
“Tell him, Patrice,” A wicked gleam came into Henri’s eye, “Tell him why we are going to Munich.”
“I …” Patrice wanted desperately to tell the soldier what was going on, how her uncle was dragging her along on a mission to kill two men - one whom was a monster of some sort, but kind - who had saved her from her undead cousin after they had foolishly run off to see a vampire for themselves . Running the tale over in head, she realized that the truth was only going to nourish the seed Henri had already planted about her mental instability. “He ... hits me,” she said, “And now he will not let me go; I am nothing more than a prisoner.”
This, at least, produced a frown from the officer. “Is this true?” He said, turning back to Henri.
Henri shook his head as sorrowfully as he was able. “I regret that it is. I know of no other way to snap her out of these delusions.” A heavy sigh, and then, “As much as I am loathe to put hands on anyone, I am more concerned for her safety than her comfort when she is hallucinating. I can only hope the man we are going to see in Munich can put a stop to it.”
The officer crossed his arms and scrutinized Henri for a moment, then Patrice. He seemed to nod to himself before waving one of his men over, a young man with strong features. The officer put his arm around the solider and the two held a brief whispered exchange. The young man paused for a moment, then shrugged and nodded. The officer clapped him on the shoulder as he moved to stand next to Patrice.
“This is Pierre,” he said, indicating the soldier, “He happens to be from Mulhouse - which you will be passing through - and is due for some time off. He will accompany you to the border and see to it that no harm befalls this young woman, by her own hand or that of another.” This last comment was directed squarely at Henri, who - Patrice had to admit - did an excellent job of keeping his thoughts about this unexpected development to himself. Instead, he merely offered the slightest of bows to the soldier.
“Excellent,” said the officer, “I will arrange for him to board the train.” Then, loud enough for everyone in the circle to hear, he said to Pierre, “I look forward to receiving a telegram when you arrive.”
“Yes, sir.” Pierre made a sharp salute.
The officer turned to both Henri and Patrice, bowed informally and said, “I wish you both a safe and … beneficial trip. Good day.” With that, he turned and made his way out of the circle of men. The other soldiers began to fall in behind him, one of their number making his way to Pierre to hand him a stuffed canvas bag, which Patrice assumed were his belongings.
Pierre thanked his comrade, then turned to Henri and Patrice and said, “Do you have any further business here, or shall we return to the train?”
They turned and looked around the platform. The steam had almost completely dissipated and it was clear that the majority of people left on the platform by this point belonged to Henri’s group. Patrice noted with quiet satisfaction that none of the remaining patrons resembled either of the two men her uncle was looking for.
Georges stepped forward, “Boss, what about …”
“We are done here,” snapped her uncle, “Back on the train. If anyone has need of the facilities,” he said, looking at Patrice, “use those provided on the train.”
“What is it?” Mr. Baine asked, settling into his seat in the first passenger car.
“Excuse me?” said Wendell.
“You have a look about you that I've come to recognize, whenever something is on your mind.”
“You are quite observant.”
“I try.” said Mr. Baine, “So what is it?”
“As we waited to board the train, I thought I heard an argument or … something. It was hard to tell over the noise of the train.” Wendell said.
“A distraction? Good.” said Mr. Baine.
“You are paranoid.”
Mr. Baine shrugged, “It's served to keep me alive thus far.”
This prompted an eye-roll from Wendell. “Regardless, I hope no one was in serious distress.” He tried to peer back along the platform to see if there were any clues as to what he might have heard. A group of passengers appeared to be taking their time boarding at the back of the train, beyond that, nothing unusual presented itself. A mild shrug and Wendell turned around to settle in for the long train ride ahead.