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.
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.
“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 25, 2016
Monday, January 11, 2016
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.”
“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?”