“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.