The dapper British man nodded smugly. "I thought so."
"Furthermore," the primary speaker continued, chewing on the end of a pipe as he did so, "the gun that should have been located within Lord Byron's ammunition closet was, instead, missing!"
"Good lord!" one man exclaimed. Several people within the room gasped and started chattering. The speaker held up his hand for silence and eventually he got his request; the room quieted.
"Now for the trump!" he continued. "Only one of you in this room could have the gun. Gentlemen, empty your pockets; ladies, empty your purses. Whoever has the gun is the murderer."
The occupants of the room started following the man's instructions. One woman in a stunning, blood-red dress opened her purse and pulled out a handgun. "Good lord!" the dapper British man exclaimed. "It was Miss Crabtree the whole time!" He thumped the heel of his palm against his forehead. "Who would have guessed? Other than you, of course, sir," he said, bowing his head in acknowledgment.
"Now that you all know," Miss Crabtree said, "you'll all have to die." Most of the occupants of the room gasped; one woman fainted. "Who would like to be first?"
"I don't think so," the detective said as he placed his pipe back in his mouth. "At this moment, policemen are converging on this apartment. In fact," he said, consulting his pocketwatch, "they should be here any minute." At that instant, the door to the room burst open and several policemen entered, weapons drawn.
Miss Crabtree dropped her gun and raised her hands. As she was handcuffed, she turned to the detective. "I'll get you for this, Holmes!"
Holmes just smiled. "I don't think so, Miss Crabtree. I don't think so."
"That was simply ingenious, sir!" the dapper man exclaimed as he shook Holmes' hand.
"Thank you, Doctor. I'll take that as a compliment."
"As it was intended," Dr. Watson said, smiling.
"Tyler," came a voice out of nowhere. "Come to my office, please."
"Who was that?" Watson asked, looking around for the voice.
Tyler/Holmes smiled. "No one you need to worry about, Doctor. Pause, save, exit."
The scene in the room halted. Then the door to the rec room appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. Tyler stepped through it. He turned to his left and went down the stairs from the rec room. The classic "Sherlock Holmes" stories had interested him of late, and he'd found that the rec room was an interesting way to experience Doyle.
Tyler stepped out of the elevator. As he did so, he saw Clayton headed for the staircase next to him. "Hey, Clayton. Long time, no see. How're you doing?"
"Great," Clayton said.
"Where are you off to?" Tyler asked.
Clayton opened the door to the staircase. He smiled. "New York." He quickly stepped through the door, letting it shut behind him.
Tyler opened it back up and looked up after him. "What do you mean 'New York'?" But Clayton didn't answer him. Tyler shrugged. He returned on his course to Sean's office. He knocked lightly on the door that opened onto the outside corridor.
Tyler opened the door and stepped through. "You rang, suh?" he asked in a British accent.
Sean looked up. "Yes. Have a seat," he offered, gesturing to the chairs on the other side of the desk. Tyler sank down into one, slouching. "I'm sure you've heard, by now, of our database search."
Tyler nodded. "I assume you mean the one you're using to look for new members."
"Right. Anyway, you're one of the ones that I'd like to contact one of our prospects."
"Why me, exactly?" Tyler asked.
Sean held up his index finger. He opened a folder and extracted a sheet of paper. He slid it across the desk to Tyler.
Tyler leaned forward and picked up the paper. "I see."
"I thought you would."
"Twenty-one?" Tyler asked, skeptical as he looked up at Sean. "That's pretty young. What could she have done to attract our attention already?"
"Well, she's also a martial arts expert."
Sean nodded. "And after all, you aren't that much older."
"Ah, but I've been involved with the Wolf Club-slash-Checkwolf since the beginning. That's almost fourteen years." He paused. "And I'm a lot older."
"Whatever," Sean replied with a grin. "And evidently, she started even younger," he continued, pointing at the sheet.
Tyler looked down at the sheet, specifically, her historical background. His eyebrows raised. "Highest level of expertise in four martial arts, including karate at fourteen and judo at sixteen." He looked back up to Sean. "Impressive."
"Yes, very. And of course, you get to go to Paris because . . . ?"
"I'm the only one that speaks French halfway decently."
Tyler continued reading the paper. "Where did she find time to do acrobatics?" he asked, marveling.
Sean shrugged. "Actually, she hasn't been in practice since she was fourteen, but why don't you ask her when you see her? I'm going to send you to France to contact Mademoiselle Darnay. Attempt to convince her to join. If she doesn't want to . . . ." Sean's voice trailed off. "Then that's her choice, of course. But try to be persuasive. If she agrees, by all means assist her with any help she may need to wrap up matters over there and then accompany her back here. Use your best discretion to deal with any other situations that may arise." He paused. "Any questions?"
Sean nodded. "Jesse will give you all the other details you need about this assignment, including your air and hotel reservations. I'd like you to leave as soon as possible. Your first-class direct flight to Paris has already been booked at Concorde Airport."
"Not giving me much notice, are you?"
Sean shrugged, smiling slightly. "Is that okay?"
Tyler dismissed the matter with a flip of his hand. "Yeah, I don't have anything going on. I could use a vacation. Besides," he continued, "it'll give me a chance to brush up on my French." He paused. "One more question."
"All expenses are being covered by Checkwolf?"
Sean nodded. "All reasonable expenses."
Tyler smiled. "Great. See ya." He waved and left Sean's office through the interior door, into the comm room. "Hey, Jesse!" he called out.
Jesse turned. "Hey, Tyler. I suppose you want all that information."
"That would be helpful, yes."
Jesse gave him a hard copy of all the relevant data on young Marie Darnay, as well as Tyler's ticket and information on accommodations. Tyler accepted them and headed up to his apartment to pack. He threw most of his clothes into two suitcases and quickly headed back downstairs. He hailed a cab as soon as he got to the curb outside the massive Checkwolf headquarters.
"Concorde Airport, please," he told the cabdriver as he got in.
The driver nodded and pulled away from the curb, into traffic. Twenty minutes later, Tyler entered the airport and went to the main desk. He arranged all the details for the flight and headed for Gate 7 and the jet parked there.
Tyler climbed the stairs into the airplane and headed into the first-class section. As Sean had said, it was a straight flight. A straight, seven-hour flight. So he would arrive at five the next morning in Paris, allowing for the flight time plus the six-hour time change. Tyler figured jet lag wouldn't be a problem, as he was generally used to being up from about midnight to three in the afternoon. He yawned. Actually, I'll probably be sleeping most of the way there. He looked around the plush cabin. Too bad I won't get much chance to enjoy these nice accommodations. He leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes as the plane began its preflight preparations. I hope it's not too tough to find Mlle. Darnay in Paris. I'd hate to run around on a wild goose chase for days on end. He smiled to himself and reclined his seat slightly.
Within a half hour, the plane had lifted off and was headed for Paris, France. Tyler, though, was unaware of this, as he was fast asleep.
Tyler fastened his safety belt for the approach to Paris-le Bourget Airport. He had been awake for the past four hours or so, after catching up on his sleep for the previous three. The jet circled in a holding pattern for a few minutes, awaiting landing clearance, before beginning its final descent.
During the time that he had been awake, Tyler had been mentally reviewing his French. He had taken four years of it in high school and another four in college. He had followed that up with a very intensive course that was the equivalent of another four years (or so he'd been told). After finishing that course he had been fluent in the language. He remembered only too well the taxing schedule that he had been on that summer and autumn: five days a week of school (and this right after he had graduated) with four to five hours of class each day. But everything would be extremely useful now, especially all of the real-world conversations in that advanced class, something that had been sorely lacking in his high school class.
Since that time, though, he noted as the wheels of the landing gear touched down on the runway, he had had little use for the French that he had learned. But now he would be forced to carry on complete conversations in the language after having left it dormant for two years. It would be quite a verbal exercise.
"Thank you for flying TransContinental Airlines," came the captain's voice over the intercom. "We hope your flight was a pleasant one. The flight attendants will show you the exits. Have a good day."
Tyler stood and followed the other two passengers in the first-class section of the plane out of the jet and to the ground. He carried his bags as he looked around at the constant flow of air traffic surrounding him. He entered the terminal of the airport and was almost instantly at the customs office. He set his bags down on the conveyor belt contrivance for analyzing the luggage as he pulled out his passport.
While he waited for his passport to be processed, Tyler evaluated the security and efficiency of the installation, finding it to be admirable. This was understandable, of course. This particular airport had, in the late nineties, been the target of multiple terrorist attacks, though all had failed. In addition to that, their security had been so lax that they had received a lot of flak from the governmental authorities, French and otherwise, for allowing contraband to be cycled through their establishment. Now they were at the height of their upswing, having put forth much effort to have their security be second-to-none; they were now one of the ten most secure airports in the world. This reason was precisely why Tyler had been routed through this particular airport, as he didn't need terrorist troubles to complicate his assignment.
"Monsieur," said the receptionist behind the counter, a trifle impatiently it seemed to Tyler.
He turned back to the counter and accepted his passport back. "Merci," he said as he continued past the customs desk to the metal detector.
"Enlevez votre objets metallique, s'il vous plait," the man at the metal detector said.
Tyler had already switched his mind into French-speaking mode. He nodded his head. He didn't have any metal objects on his person. He removed his keys along with a couple of paper clips that he hadn't known were in his pocket. The keys he set to the side and the paper clips he just tossed in the wastebasket. He then walked through the arch and heard a tone, indicating that he had no other metallic objects. As Tyler understood it, this particular device also checked for other types of weapons concealed on the person, or any type of odd bulge that might be a weapon, whether it was metallic or not. Tyler hadn't brought any weapons. After all, this was just a fairly routine assignment.
The man handed Tyler his keys and Tyler nodded. "Thank you," he said in French. The man smiled at Tyler's American accent. Tyler then reached over and picked up his two pieces of luggage. He headed for the exit to the sprawling airport. After exiting, he hailed a taxicab. He got in.
"Where to?" the cabdriver asked.
"The Hotel de Transitoire," Tyler replied.
"All right," the cabdriver replied as he pulled out into traffic on the left side of the road. Tyler almost called out to the driver in panic before the rational part of his brain took control from the impulsive side and he remembered that this was how they drove in Europe. I guess it's just as well that I didn't get a rental.
The driver seemed to pick up on Tyler's nervousness. "American?" he asked as he looked at Tyler by way of his rearview mirror.
Tyler looked up. "Yes."
"I thought I could tell by the accent," he said with a slight smile.
Tyler smiled. Why don't you just shut up, drive, and leave me alone?
Evidently the driver picked up on this, as well. "I'll just shut up and drive, and leave you alone," he said as he concentrated on his driving.
Tyler tossed his bags on one of the double beds in the immense Hotel de Transitoire. This hotel was somewhat bigger than The Hilt back in Kewanee. Somewhat, Tyler thought. More like two or three times bigger. And luxurious beyond Tyler's experience; the bill per night was over three hundred dollars, though it would have been even more if the exchange rate weren't so favorable. Tyler was just thankful that he didn't have to pay for it. Of course, if he had been footing the bill, he would be staying in some place named Hotel de Shack.
After the hour-long taxi ride, Tyler was glad that he was out of the oppressive weight of the traffic. He slid open the curtains to take a look at the city of Paris. It was a rare clear day as the sun started to rise in the east, to his left. Over to his right, the morning sun glinted off of the famous Eiffel Tower, a couple of miles to the west, across the Seine, on its Left Bank. Tyler had a very good view, since he was on the twenty-eighth floor of the immense hotel.
Tyler then turned away from the window in thought, letting the morning sunlight stream through. From the document that he had gotten from Sean, Tyler knew that Mlle. Darnay was associated with the Paris Police Department. Another amazing accomplishment. Not only was she on a police force, but at twenty-one she had managed to attract Checkwolf's attention from an ocean away. Evidently, young Mlle. Darnay was an exceptional woman. The small picture that accompanied the documentation seemed to indicate that she was exceptional in more ways than one.
Tyler glanced at the clock, noting that it was just past six-thirty. He didn't know whether she would be at work now, whether she was on an overnight shift or a first shift or what. It was certainly possible that she was on the night shift, maybe just getting off. He went to the phone next to the bed and pressed the button to call the operator. He asked for the number to police headquarters, then had them patch him through.
After one ring, there was an answer on the other end. "Hello."
"Hello. I was looking for a Miss Marie Darnay."
"Just one moment." The woman on the other end of the line put Tyler on hold. Less than a minute later, she came back on the line. "Yes. Sergeant Darnay is on duty right now, though."
"Ah. Well. When does her shift end?" Tyler asked.
Tyler nodded to himself. "Thank you," he said as he hung up. He sat with his elbows on his knees, hands clasped, and thought. Though the exchanges he'd had thus far from the airport to now had gone fairly smoothly, he still felt the rust on the hinges of his memory. If I want to make the best possible impression, maybe I'd better take some time to get better acquainted with the language. He decided to try to contact her the next day instead. He turned toward the desk and a map of the city and started planning his day.
Tyler sank down into the warm, pulsing jets of the jacuzzi. He sighed. As he let his muscles relax, he lolled his head to one side and glanced at his watch, noting that it was just after eight. He was starting to feel it, too. After a long tour of the city and his short night of sleep, he was just about ready to conk out. He watched appreciatively as several beautiful French women entered and exited the pool, then spent a moment wondering why he had to qualify everything he saw as "French". "French women", "French restaurant", "French air". He mentally shrugged. I've got the whole "French jacuzzi" to myself.
Until an exceptionally beautiful woman in an exceptionally tiny bikini lowered herself into the water on the other side of the twelve-foot-wide jacuzzi. Tyler shifted a little in the water as she sank down into it up to her throat. He was thankful for that; it was a very small bikini. He noticed that she was gazing straight at him, smiling, her blonde hair pulled up into a braid that she had draped over her shoulder.
Tyler cleared his throat. "Bonjour."
She smiled. "Bonjour."
"Comment allez vous c'est matin?" Tyler asked.
"Are you British, or American, or something?" she asked in flawless, albeit highly pitched, English.
Tyler nodded. "American, yes."
She smiled wider. "Where at?"
Her eyes lit up. "Me, too! What city?"
She sat up a bit straighter and placed her fingertips against her bare chest. "I'm from Chicago," she said.
Tyler nodded, striving to look into her eyes.
"Wow, this is amazing," she continued. "I mean, two Americans being in the exact same place in a foreign country, and all."
Tyler nodded, continuing to look into her eyes and hoping that she didn't misread his unswerving gaze.
"I saw you from over there," she said, leaning forward in the water a bit and pointing. Tyler's eyes followed her finger. She leaned back again. "I thought you looked like a good-looking French guy, so I came over here to meet you." She smiled shyly, her head dipping down a little. "I guess it's just as well that you're American. My French ain't too good."
Neither is your English, Tyler thought. "Well, nobody's perfect," he said instead.
"So, what brings you to Paris?" she asked with a dazzling smile as she slowly scooted around the edge of the jacuzzi toward Tyler.
"Mmm," she said, smiling. "What kind of business?"
Tyler frowned while he tried to think of a way of explaining to her what line of work he was in without telling her too much. Then he smiled. "I'd love to tell you, but it's top secret government stuff."
"I see," she said, seeming impressed. Tyler was beginning to get the impression that she was very easily impressed.
"So, uh, what brings you here?" Tyler asked, wondering if it was wise to be asking her this question.
"My daddy sent me here for a couple of weeks," she said matter-of-factly. Speaking behind her hand to him, she continued, "Between me and you, I think he just wanted to get me out of his hair."
Tyler nodded. "I see."
By now, the woman had moved all the way around and was sitting directly next to Tyler. He was suddenly uncomfortable with the position he was in. His problem with this woman certainly wasn't her looks or even the fact that she was being somewhat forward. Rather, judging from the brief conversation they had engaged in, she seemed somewhat shallow. Ditzy.
"Well," he said, standing before things got any more awkward. "I've really got to be going."
"Oh," she said, looking noticeably disappointed. "I thought maybe you'd want to grab some dinner."
"Maybe some other time," Tyler said. "It's been a long day for me and I'm beat."
"All right," she said, now almost pouting.
"It was really nice meeting you," Tyler half-lied. Vapid, he thought.
She looked up at him. "Same here. Maybe we'll run into each other again."
Tyler's eyebrows lifted. He smiled. Not if I can help it. "Hopefully," he said.
"By the way, my name's Tiffany."
What a surprise. Tyler smiled. "Well, adieu."
Tiffany smiled, seemingly fully recovered from her emotional state fifteen seconds earlier. "Yeah, bye!" She slid further into the water, leaning her head against the rim. Tyler hastily left the pool room before she thought to ask his name.
Tyler heard a sudden, loud sound from the corridor outside his room. He got to his feet and opened the door. He looked to the left and saw nothing but empty hallway. Then he turned his head to the right. Coming down the corridor were two men toting submachine guns. The loud sound, Tyler discerned, had been another of their compatriots bursting into one of the rooms. As Tyler watched, that third man left the room and deposited some small trinkets into a duffel bag. Tyler quickly slid back into his room. So what are they? Terrorists or burglars? Burglarists? Terrorglars? Tyler shook his head. Not a good time to be making jokes. He hadn't heard of a terrorist hitting an upscale hotel for years. Yet burglars rarely carried around submachine guns.
He hoped that they hadn't seen him, though he realized that they'd probably break in anyway. He picked up the phone. He didn't receive a dial tone, just dead space; the phone lines had been cut. He glanced at the clock beside his bed. It read six-eleven. Dawn was beginning to break; Tyler had been up for two hours.
As Tyler returned the phone to the cradle, his door was kicked open and one of the gunmen entered, leveling his gun. "Don't move!" he yelled in French.
Tyler raised his hands. The man quickly frisked him and relieved him of his wallet. He then quickly searched the room, not finding anything else of value, as Tyler hadn't brought anything valuable with him. "Move it," the man ordered as he pushed Tyler out of the room. He was handed off to another gunman and herded down the corridor to where a group of people stood waiting anxiously, in a wide variance of states of undress, guarded by a fourth terrorist. This was obviously well-planned. Tyler wouldn't bet against there being others on other floors, possibly every other floor. But what are they here for? he wondered as he watched the terrorists go about their business. Rather high-profile way to go about raising funds.
Ten minutes later, after they had herded several more people down to the end of the hall and after they had gone through all the other rooms on the floor, they forced the twenty or so people onto the elevators. They were then herded like cattle into the huge lobby, the largest open space in the building, where dozens of other guests were already stationed with several men all around them, guarding them. For the next fifteen minutes, even more were brought into the lobby, and more and more of the terrorists arrived with them. Tyler counted nearly two dozen of them.
All of these men looked and acted like professionals, like they had done this type of thing before. Tyler managed to move unobtrusively toward the front of the aggregate of people. The men that had their attention on the group weren't watching very carefully, overconfident of the power of their guns on the "sheep" beneath them. That gave Tyler a small element of surprise on his side, if he could find an opening.
At that moment a squad of police officers appeared on either side of the large assembly of people. The police moved quietly enough that they managed to catch several of the terrorists with stunguns before anybody realized what was happening. Then the terrorists opened fire on the policemen. Tyler saw two fall backward; whether they were unconscious or dead, Tyler wasn't able to determine.
Suddenly, Tyler felt somebody grab him by his shirtfront and pull him away from the group of guests. He felt warm metal pressed against his temple. "Hold your fire!" the man holding him shouted. All of the guns instantly fell silent. Tyler's heart pounded as he tried to stay absolutely still. All of the other terrorists grabbed targets as well, holding them hostage. The man holding Tyler started talking. "Try anything else and we'll be forced to start taking the lives of innocents."
"Don't fire," the officer in charge called out. Whether he was talking to his men, to the terrorists, or to both, was in question. "What are your terms, leech?" Tyler was a bit surprised to hear such an insult come from the policeman's mouth. But it only took him a moment to realize that it wasn't pejorative; it was the man's name: Sangsue.
Sangsue, the man holding him, smiled. Tyler could hear it in his voice. "I'll need two hostages to insure that you won't attempt anything heroic. One of the police officers, and this one here," he said, shaking Tyler slightly.
Wonderful, Tyler thought as he was herded back toward the knot of terrorists that was forming near the entrance.
"Take me," a female voice from the police said.
Sangsue smiled again as he handed Tyler off to somebody else, who treated him even more roughly, pressing the barrel of his gun against Tyler's spine painfully. Tyler grimaced. He looked back at the smiling form of the lead terrorist. The man was powerfully built, in his thirties, with short black hair and a mustache. Like all of the other terrorists, he was dressed in some sort of fatigues. His smile was truly ugly to behold, cracking the map of scars that was his face. "Initiative. That's what I like to see. Very well." He gestured at another of his men. Tyler assumed that the other man grabbed the policewoman, though he couldn't see anything as he was being led toward the doors. "We have our two hostages. I trust you won't force us to harm them. I must say that's it's been quite a thrill, but we must be going. Goodbye."
Tyler and the policewoman were in the middle of the group of terrorists as they left the hotel. Sangsue came running alongside them and jumped into the cab of a van. Tyler and the officer were literally thrown into the back of that same van, along with several bags of stolen goods. The van started up and roared away from the curb, throwing them to the floor.
Tyler sat up against the wall of the van and looked at the woman. Her hair had come free of its braid. She tossed it out of her face and looked at Tyler. She nodded.
Tyler instantly recognized her. "Miss Darnay?" he asked.
Darnay narrowed her eyes. "How do you know me?"
"I've been looking for you. My name's Tyler Spencer."
She nodded. "I don't know you."
Tyler shook his head. "Not yet, no."
"Shut up back there!" Sangsue yelled.
Tyler and Darnay both started as he glared at them. He then turned back in his seat and watched the road go by, keeping an eye out.
"Sangsue," Tyler said quietly. "I take it that's not his given name."
"Obviously," Darnay said.
Sangsue turned. He had a German Luger in his hand. As they watched, he cocked it. He smiled with no humor. "I said be quiet. Now do it."
"Get out," Sangsue growled, adding emphasis to his order by threateningly pointing with his gun. Tyler and Darnay got out of the back of the van. They were presently located in approximately . . . the middle of nowhere. They had gone down several major thoroughfares before leaving the city proper. Once in the countryside, they had gone down several side roads and were now near a rural inhabitance.
"We're in the middle of nowhere," Tyler pointed out.
Sangsue grinned. "That's the whole point. Your usefulness has ended." His grin then changed to a sneer. "Just be thankful that we're not killing you." Sangsue got back in the van, and the driver peeled away, speeding off down the road.
"Terrific," Darnay said.
"Well," Tyler said, scratching the back of his head, "at least we're not dead."
"I suppose we should start heading back to Paris."
They started trudging through the wet ground in a southern direction, looking for a crossroad. "It's about thirteen kilometers back to Paris," Darnay commented. She looked at him askance. "American, aren't you?"
"I thought I recognized your accent."
Tyler shrugged. He glanced at Darnay, who was wearing only a long-sleeved police uniform in the late January chill. "You cold?"
Darnay shrugged. "I'm okay." She looked at Tyler. "You?"
Tyler shoved his hands in his pockets. "I'm fine."
They walked silently for a few minutes. "So, what do you do in America?" Darnay asked.
Tyler suddenly remembered exactly why he was in Paris. In all the excitement, he had forgotten. "I'm a member of an organization called 'Checkwolf'."
Darnay didn't comment for awhile; Tyler assumed she was thinking. "I've never heard of it. Exactly what does being a 'member of Checkwolf' involve?"
"Well," Tyler began, "we're sort of like a police force, although I guess elite police force might be a better term."
"On top of handling the so-called 'normal' problems, things like robberies, arson, kidnapping, we also take care of more 'major' problems, like high-powered people." Tyler paused. "We're kind of an extra arm for the police, taking care of more touchy and involved things that the police may not have the time or resources for. Or permission for." Tyler paused again. "I guess I'm not really explaining it very well."
Darnay smiled. "What do you mean by 'high-powered'?"
"Well, they have a lot of firepower, or are physically above normal, or perhaps have a lot of political power. You know, things like that."
"I see," Darnay said. "Well, that sounds interesting. How big is your organization?"
"Right now, thirteen," Tyler said. He spread his hands. "We got a replacement for one of our members that was killed last March."
"I'm sorry to hear about that. In a small squad, any loss is hard."
Tyler nodded. "Thanks. It's all right, I guess. I mean, it's been awhile and we were never that close, but, you know . . . ," he trailed off, looking at the ground.
Darnay nodded with sympathy.
"We would like to make that number fourteen, though."
Tyler smiled and looked at Darnay. "By adding you to our team."
Darnay seemed genuinely astonished. "Me? Why me?"
"For the past couple of months, we've been conducting a search for prospective new members and your name topped the list," Tyler told her with a smile.
"Why would you recognize me?" Darnay asked. "I haven't done anything special enough to attract the attention of somebody in America."
"I appreciate your modesty," Tyler said. "But come on. Would you like me to number the things that you've done?" He raised his hand and started ticking points off on his fingers. "You're a master of several different martial arts, and have been so since a rather young age; you're a world-class acrobat; and you've progressed quickly through the ranks of the police, despite being only twenty-one and a woman." Tyler paused and shrugged one shoulder. "We could really use skills like that in Checkwolf, and besides, as a police officer, you're already used to a slightly wacky schedule. It would make any adjustment slight."
Darnay had blushed slightly, more than just from walking for an extended period in the chilly morning air. She smiled slightly. "I wouldn't call myself a 'world-class' acrobat."
"Maybe I overestimated a little," Tyler said with a smile.
"And I suppose you call leaving my homeland a slight adjustment?"
Tyler grinned. "Well, there's that." They continued in silence for a few more minutes. "I was wanting to ask you something, Miss Darnay."
"Where did you ever find the time to master all those martial arts and find time to do gymnastics and acrobatics, too?" Tyler asked.
"Simple," Darnay answered with a wry smile. "I didn't have a life." Tyler started laughing at that, as did Darnay. "And, please," she continued, "call me Marie. Not Miss Darnay," she said with an air of stuffiness. She chuckled. "So formal."
Tyler chuckled too and then looked at her, really looked. Marie Darnay was very beautiful. Tyler had picked up on that from the snapshot in the hard copy, but in person the effect was more potent. Her hair was significantly longer than in the picture, and her makeup was applied differently, as well, more subtly. He hadn't failed to notice that she had a killer figure, discernible even in the uniform she wore, perfect facial features, lovely, large, brown eyes with long, full lashes, and gorgeous, wavy, shoulder-length brown hair. What's she doing as a police officer? Tyler wondered. She could be a model.
Noticing that Tyler was studying her, Marie flashed a stunning smile.
"Sure," Tyler said. "Marie. Nice to meet you." He hadn't noticed that he had said the sentence in English.
"Are we speaking English now?" Marie asked in nearly unaccented English.
Tyler recovered quickly. "Sorry," he said, reverting back to French.
"No problem," she replied, also returning to French.
"You speak English very well, too," Tyler commented. Stupid, you shouldn't be so surprised. It figures that they'd think to check for that ability in somebody coming from another country.
"Yes, I've spoken English fluently since I was ten. How long have you been studying French? I ask because you don't really have much of an accent."
"Well, four years in high school, four more in college, and then I took a really intensive six-month course that, I'm told, was the equivalent of another four years' worth," Tyler replied.
Marie's eyebrows raised. "Impressive."
Marie shrugged. "No, not really."
"Then how come everybody knows I'm American?" he asked, slightly confused.
Marie laughed out loud.
Following that, they continued in silence for another few minutes. Then Tyler broke the silence. "So, are you interested?"
"In what?" Marie asked, stirring from her own thoughts.
"Oh. Well, it certainly sounds interesting."
"Is that a good interesting or a bad interesting?" Tyler asked, slightly apprehensive.
"Good. Of course good." Marie paused for another several seconds. "Well, as I'm sure you know, I'm always looking to broaden my life experiences. This sounds like a very interesting way to do it. I'll do a little research on your organization before I give you a final answer, though."
Yes! "Fair enough," Tyler said aloud. "Any other questions you have?"
"Not right now, I don't think. You'll be in Paris for awhile if I do, though?"
Tyler nodded. "Yes, I will."
"I've been thinking about this whole Sangsue thing," Tyler said.
"What, in particular?"
"Well, what was the point behind holding everybody in the hotel hostage?" Tyler said. "Money? I doubt they could have gotten enough money to cover their expenses on it. But what else? It doesn't make sense."
Marie shrugged. "Well, terrorists rarely do."
"But what were his demands?" Tyler asked. "Did he even have any? What was the point?"
"There may not have been one," Marie said. "After all, Sangsue is clinically insane; he spent many, many years in a psychiatric ward."
"Oh, that makes me feel better."
"Has he been around for awhile, then?"
Marie nodded. "Off and on for the past few years. He'll show up a few times, then cause some major trouble, then disappear for a very long time." She sighed. "He's been doing it for years. We don't understand why." She paused and grinned. "Of course, all of this is just hearsay from other officers; I obviously haven't been with the department long enough to have seen him in action much."
"We should just take the punk down," Tyler muttered.
Marie raised an eyebrow. "Have a death wish, do you?"
"Mad at him because he kidnapped you and stole all your money?" she asked with a smile.
"No. Well, maybe," Tyler said. "But I'm just more into proactive solutions as opposed to reactive ones."
"Well, proactive solutions are best left to the vigilantes," Marie said. "We do our best after the fact."
"Ah, kids these days," Tyler said softly. "Actually," he continued in a louder voice, "in Checkwolf we have both mentalities: police and vigilante. We're self-sufficient, for the most part; we don't rely on the police department very much."
Marie nodded. "By the way, I'm not a kid, I'm . . . ."
"Twenty-one, I know," Tyler said, finishing for her.
Marie narrowed her eyes. "Yes, twenty-one." She looked Tyler up and down. "And how old are you?"
"Twenty-four in a few months," Tyler said, puffing up his chest and affecting a bragging expression.
"Oh, yes. That's so much older," Marie said. "An entire two years."
Tyler grinned. "Wow, you're a math whiz, too! You really can do it all."
Marie simply smiled. They trudged along for a few more minutes, finally approaching a road. Marie suddenly made a sound of disgust.
"What is it?" Tyler asked.
"I'm ruining my perfectly good shoes trudging around in all of this . . . this . . . ," she flailed around in French trying to find a word and, not succeeding, switched to English. "Glop."
"Glop?" Tyler asked, amused.
"All right," Tyler said, stepping onto the road and looking into the distance for any oncoming traffic.
"Well, we're just about here," Tyler said, noting the familiarity of the buildings around him. He turned to Marie, seated next to him in the back seat of the taxi. "So you're going to check into us, then?"
"When can I expect to hear from you again?"
Marie shrugged. "Kind of depends on how long it takes me to find out what I need to know." She looked at Tyler. "Any particular time good for you?"
Tyler shrugged. "You name it. I won't be doing much for awhile, so I'll be around for the next couple of days. Take as long as you need."
Marie nodded. "Thanks. And thanks for the offer," she said with a smile.
"Not a problem," Tyler said, smiling. "I'll wait for your call."
The taxi pulled to a stop outside of the hotel.
"Goodbye, Tyler," Marie said, holding out her hand.
Tyler grasped it and shook. "Until later, Marie." He stepped out of the taxi and entered the hotel. It was now well past two in the afternoon. He went straight up to his room, ignoring the few police and reporters still standing around from the morning's excitement. He stepped into his room and sighed as he saw the mess. He shook his head as he didn't have the energy to clean it up. It was only the middle of the afternoon, but the day's events-along with the slight jet lag he was feeling-had combined to wear him out.
He collapsed onto the bed, looking blearily at the clock. It read two-eleven. Tyler's mind lazily cycled through what had been happeing for the past eight hours. He looked at the phone, thinking he should probably call and cancel his credit cards, so they wouldn't be used. Then his brain thought it might be a good idea to call the base. Then he fell asleep.
"Hello, Tyler?" came a female voice over the line.
"Hello, Marie. How are you?"
"So . . . ," Tyler said.
"So." Marie paused. "I've looked into your organization."
"I'm very impressed," she said. "I've seen pictures of your headquarters, and I've seen accounts in your newspapers and from your police detailing your work. Everything was positively glowing."
Tyler smiled. "Well, that's good to hear." He paused. "So, are you interested in joining us?"
"Yes, very," Marie said. "I'm sorry I took so long to get back to you . . . ."
"No problem," Tyler said, interrupting. "I've been seeing the sights."
"Good," Marie said, a smile evident in her voice. "I've had a lot to do. It took me several days to find all of the information I could on your organization and talk to my parents about what would be the best course for me to take. Then, after we'd decided that this would be good, I had to terminate my association with the police department here. A lot of paperwork involved there, and several different lieutenants and captains, and even the chief himself, tried to convince me to stay, so I was in a lot of meetings," Marie explained with a laugh.
Tyler laughed along with her. "Well, I can understand their feelings," he said. "You're a very talented woman."
Marie was quiet for a moment. "Why, thank you, Tyler," she said finally.
"You're welcome," he said. He paused. "Marie?"
"I've been thinking about something that you said a few days ago."
"And what's that?"
"I assume you saw the news reports about the disturbance he caused over at the Eiffel Tower?"
"Yes, I did."
"See, that was just like what he did here; he didn't really accomplish anything."
"And the news reports mentioned that this was the fourth time he had done something like this in as many weeks," Tyler said.
"Yes, it is. He's just been causing a little trouble."
"You told me before that he's been around for the past few years, and that every once in a while he'll show up, cause a little trouble, then cause a major disturbance, then disappear." Tyler paused. "I'm a bit concerned."
"Don't you see a pattern here?"
Marie was silent for a moment. She cursed. "You're right! He's probably going to hit something big soon, isn't he?"
"You tell me."
"I think you're right." She cursed again. "So what do we do?"
"Well, the police are already working on this, right?"
"Right, I guess."
Tyler shrugged. "Maybe we could look into it ourselves. I could break you in to what Checkwolf work involves."
"All right," Marie said. "What's your plan?"
"Well, I talked to Sean Matts. He's the leader of Checkwolf," Tyler explained.
"Yes, I know."
"Okay. Anyway, he said he'd send us some equipment to use against Sangsue."
"What kind of equipment?"
"I don't know, exactly, but I assume at least some kinds of stun weapons, that type of thing."
"That would be nice."
"Yes," Tyler agreed. "So, as it turns out, I haven't been just 'seeing the sights'; I've been trying to find out where Sangsue's base of operations is. But I haven't been able to find anything."
"Well, there's a good reason for that."
"And that would be?" Tyler prompted.
"He doesn't have a base of operations."
"How is that possible?" Tyler asked. "How does he run all of these operations without a base? He seems far too organized for that."
"I honestly don't know," Marie said. "But one thing we learned a long time ago was that he doesn't have a definite place that he works from. That's why we've never caught him."
"Well, that puts a definite wrench in things," Tyler said. "Do you have any ideas on how exactly we can find him?"
Marie was silent for a few moments. "I have a friend that knows somebody that has a contact that has an ear in the underworld of the city," she said. "I've relied on this friend before on occasion and have never been let down. Perhaps we could find out what Sangsue's goal is. Don't count on being able to find the man, though."
"Well, anything would be better than what we have now," Tyler said. "When can you get ahold of this person?"
"I can send out some feelers, but I can't do it right now," Marie said.
"I'm moving out of my apartment."
"Well, I put it on the market a couple of days ago. You wouldn't believe how quickly an apartment will sell in Paris after you do that," Marie told him.
Tyler thought of the troubles he had trying to find an apartment in Kewanee. "I think I could imagine."
"So, it's been leased out to someone else already. I have to find somewhere else to stay."
"Are you going to stay with your parents, or a friend, or something?"
"Well, after talking with you, I was thinking it might be a good idea to stay with you."
Tyler froze. "Um, excuse me?"
"Stay with you," Marie said. She continued, slowly, as if talking to a child, "At your hotel."
"Well, um, I suppose that'd be okay," Tyler said.
"Don't you have two beds in your room?"
"So, is there a problem?" she asked.
"Oh, I don't know," Tyler said, trying to come up with a reasonable explanation.
Marie paused. Then she continued in a playful tone. "Are you scared of me, Tyler? I won't bite. I promise."
Tyler grinned. "No, I'm not." He sighed. "That's fine, I guess. I can put you up in my room for the rest of the time that we're here in Paris."
"Good," Marie said. "Thank you. Well, if there's nothing else, I guess I'll see you later on this afternoon."
"Sounds good. Maybe you can get ahold of your contact when you get here."
"I'll try," Marie said. "You're staying at the Hotel de Transitoire, right?"
"Very well, then. Until this afternoon. Goodbye."
"Bye." Tyler placed the phone on its cradle. He shook his head. Real smooth, Tyler, he chided himself. He sighed and flopped back onto his bed. There's nothing going on here, he reminded himself. She doesn't have an ulterior motive. She just needs someplace to stay. Tyler sat up and looked at himself in the mirror. He had outgrown the gawkiness of his teenage years, putting on muscle mass that he had always wished he had in high school. His weight in high school had been around one hundred fifty pounds; he weighed over one-eighty now, none of it fat. But every time he looked in the mirror he saw the same kid that he used to be, even though he had now matured. Even still, he had never had any trouble with girls, at least, not enough to warrant the reaction that he was feeling now. Then again, he thought, I've never had a supermodel in my room, either, no matter what ulterior motives she might not have.
He started as he heard a knock at the door. He frowned, wondering who it was, since he knew it couldn't be Marie yet. He walked over to the door and looked through the peephole inset in the door frame. A tiny camera outside came to life, giving Tyler a clear and accurate picture of the person in the corridor outside. The camera was much better than the "fish-eye" peepholes that most of the hotels in the U.S. still employed.
The man outside looked harmless enough. He had a fairly large black carton at his feet and was whistling off-key, as Tyler could hear through the door. Tyler pressed the electronic lock and opened the door.
"Mr. Spencer?" the man asked.
"Sign here," he said, handing Tyler a small computerized notepad with an electronic pen attached. Tyler picked up the pen and signed his name. The man touched a few buttons on the notepad and a tone sounded, indicating that his signature matched the one that the computer had on file. The man smiled and handed him the box. "There you are, sir. Have a good day."
Tyler smiled and nodded in dismissal. He kicked the door shut and heard the lock click. He stumbled over to the bed with the slightly unwieldy package and heaved the box onto it. He pressed a contact on the outside of the container and the top flaps opened. Inside was an assortment of equipment: one stun pistol, one stun rifle, a couple of charges for each, two grappling guns, one robotic key, one robotic card (a device Tyler had only seen a couple of times before), another device used for detecting various electronic impulses, and two small pieces of "masking" equipment, which would make a person undetectable to conventional methods of detection.
Tyler smiled. As soon as Marie arrived and got the information she needed from her contact, discovering exactly where Sangsue was, they would be prepared to take him on. Until then, Tyler thought, I'll watch the tube. He plopped down on the bed and turned on a French basketball game.
Tyler jumped slightly when he heard a knock on the door. He stepped over to it and glanced through the peephole. Upon seeing Marie standing on the other side, Tyler found himself staring for awhile. She seemed even more gorgeous than she had been before, due in all likelihood to being in a much more flattering outfit than the one she had been wearing on their first meeting. She knocked again and Tyler opened the door. "Hello," Tyler said. "You're certainly looking good today." Tyler mentally kicked himself. What kind of line is that?
"Well, thank you," Marie said, smiling radiantly. "May I come in?"
Tyler stepped back and gestured sweepingly with his arm.
"Thank you," she said, looking around at the hotel room. "I didn't realize this hotel was so nice. How are you paying for all of this?"
"Another fringe benefit of being a Checkwolf member."
Tyler looked around. "Where's your luggage?"
"The bellhop is bringing it up," Marie said. She tilted her head and looked askance at Tyler. "This hotel has an indoor pool, correct?"
"Well, I need to do some laps; I've missed my workout the past couple of days, what with everything that's been going on," Marie said. "Would you care to join me?"
"Sure," Tyler replied, carefully avoiding sounding overly enthusiastic.
At that point, Marie's luggage arrived. Tyler tipped the bellhop generously and shut the door.
Marie looked at Tyler. "I'm going to need a few minutes to unpack the things I'll need and call my contact," she said. "If you'd like, I could meet you at the pool when I'm done."
Tyler nodded. "Sounds good." He stepped into the bathroom and grabbed his swim trunks from the towel rack, where he had left them to dry after the last time he wore them. He put them on, pulled on a T-shirt, grabbed a towel, and stepped back out of the bathroom.
Marie was bent over a suitcase on the bed, rummaging through it. Tyler paused briefly, watching her, before shaking his head and continuing on.
"See you in a little while?" Tyler asked.
Marie looked up and smiled. "Sure thing."
Tyler strolled down the corridor to the bank of elevators. After arriving at the ground floor, he turned left and followed an arrow that pointed to the piscine. He stepped into the large pool room and looked around. He chose a deck chair and sat down, placing his towel on the end of it. He leaned back and simply observed, glancing toward the door every time it opened.
"Hi!" came a perky voice in English.
Tyler shuddered. He turned and looked up at Tiffany. "Hi," he said, allowing the proper note of dread to creep into his voice.
"Mind if I sit here?" the bubblehead asked even as she sat down on the chair with Tyler.
"No, not at all," Tyler muttered.
Tiffany was wearing a different skimpy swimsuit today, though this one was a one-piece instead of a bikini. "Did you get through that whole terrorist thing okay?" she asked.
Tyler turned and looked at her. She was batting her false eyelashes at him, smiling in what she probably thought was a seductive way. His stomach simply turned at her stupidity. Sangsue's men had practically led him across the middle of the lobby, in front of everybody, when they had kidnapped him. He was glad he'd decided not to pursue her. "Yeah."
"That's good," Tiffany said, smiling. "So, what are you doing tonight?"
"Um. Stuff," Tyler said.
"Like what kind of stuff?"
Tyler smiled stiffly. "I'm actually waiting for somebody."
"Found somebody you have," Tiffany said in a croaky voice. She giggled. "I saw that on a movie the other day. It was funny. It had this little green guy in it and he talked funny. Have you ever seen it?"
"Doesn't ring a bell," Tyler lied.
"Maybe we could watch it together tonight," Tiffany said.
"Uh, no," Tyler said. "Like I said, I'm waiting for somebody."
"Hello," came another voice from behind Tyler.
Tiffany looked up. "Hi. Is this your friend?" she asked, pointing at Tyler.
Tyler turned and looked at Marie. "Yes," she said. Marie had changed into swimwear, but was wearing a T-shirt over her swimsuit. Tyler was beginning to wonder if anything looked bad on her. Then he wondered if nothing would look bad on her. Then he forcibly shifted mental gears.
"Yes, she's the one I was waiting for," Tyler said, turning back to Tiffany.
Tiffany was visibly disappointed. "Oh. Well, bye, then," she said. She got up and sauntered off to claim a new victim.
Marie sat next to Tyler. "Friend of yours?" she asked, switching back to French.
"Not exactly," Tyler said. "More like a pain in my butt."
Marie laughed. "Her elevator didn't seem to quite reach the top floor, did it?"
Tyler laughed, too. "No, it didn't."
Marie smiled and continued looking into Tyler's eyes, though not saying anything. Tyler continued gazing at her, as well. The smiles slowly dropped from their faces, but they continued staring. Finally, Tyler turned and coughed; Marie blinked her eyes. "So, did you, uh, call your contact?" Tyler asked.
"Yes, yes," Marie said quickly. "He'll get back to us sometime tomorrow," she said.
"Good, good," Tyler said. "That's good."
"Um. Wanna swim?"
Marie smiled. "Yes, that's sounds nice."
Tyler stood and pulled off his shirt, tossing it beside his towel on the deck chair. He turned back to Marie, who had done the same, and couldn't help but stare. He had to make a serious effort to keep his mouth closed. Marie was wearing a very small, black bikini, one that left very little to the imagination.
Marie smiled at him, turned, and dove into the pool. Tyler watched her as she propelled herself across the width of the pool, swimming gracefully under the water, then turned on the other side and arrowed back toward him. She surfaced when she returned, taking a deep breath, pulling the hair out of her face. The bikini clung even more tightly to her body than it had when it was dry. Marie smiled at him. "Coming in?"
Tyler reached down and grabbed his T-shirt and towel. "Uh, actually, no, I can't. I remembered that I have to go and, uh, call Sean."
"Can't you do that later?" Marie asked, moving onto her back and swimming gracefully around, propelling herself with her feet.
"I just ate a little while ago; I shouldn't go swimming right now," he said. "I've gotta go, Marie. Sorry. See you a little later." With one more look, Tyler turned and hurriedly walked from the room.
Marie watched him go and simply grinned.
Tyler stepped up to the door of the room after being disturbed by the knock. He looked through the peephole and saw a damp Marie standing outside in the hall, waiting to be let in. He opened the door and let her in. She strode into the room, her T-shirt on again and a towel wrapped around her waist. He shut the door behind her, noticing that the T-shirt clung to her bikini. "Hi."
Marie looked at him. "Hi," she said. "What happened back there?"
Tyler scratched his head. What am I supposed to say? 'Hey, Marie. See the thing is, I find you really, incredibly attractive and desirable and so when I saw you practically naked I got a little choked up'? Yeah, that'd go over really well. "I dunno," he said, shrugging.
Marie cocked her head. "Did I do something?"
Tyler looked at her. "No."
Marie stepped closer to Tyler, standing just a few feet from him. Her damp hair was hanging straight off the back of her head and the swim in the chlorinated water had washed most of the makeup from her face . . . yet she was still intensely attractive. A lump rose in Tyler's throat as he looked at her. "Well, what, then?"
Tyler spread his arms. "Well . . . ," he started, then stopped. He sighed. He stepped away from her and walked toward the nearer bed, turned, and looked at her again. "You see . . . ," he started again. He raised his outstretched hand toward her, then dropped it back to his side. Well, this is going nicely. He turned to one side and put his hands on his hips.
He felt more than heard Marie walk toward him. She stood very close and placed a hand on his shoulder. He jumped only slightly. "Did I make you uncomfortable, Tyler?" she asked.
The way she clipped his name with her French accent sent a shiver up Tyler's spine, as did the presence of her hand on his shoulder. Tyler shrugged.
"I didn't mean to," she said.
Tyler looked toward her, gazed into her eyes which were looking earnestly into his. He looked at her for a moment longer, then turned and faced his body toward her. He put his hands on her shoulders and cocked his head to one side. Then, he grinned.
Marie was taken aback. "What is it?"
"You're a very good liar."
Marie's eyes widened. "What do you mean?"
Tyler laughed and dropped his hands, then walked away from her. "Very good," he said again, laughing. His laughter was contagious, and so Marie, too, started laughing. Tyler looked at her again. "You knew full well what you were doing, didn't you, Marie?" he asked, smiling.
Marie simply grinned. "Maybe."
Tyler nodded. "I thought so." He shook his head, then took a deep breath. "Yes, Marie, you did make me uncomfortable. And I get the feeling that you know why."
Marie spread her arms. "Do you find me attractive?"
"Oh, come on, Marie. Don't play dumb," Tyler said, still smiling slightly. "You know I think you're gorgeous. You could be a model, if you wanted. You know that, too."
Marie simply smiled, saying nothing.
"But I'm attracted to you for more than that, Marie," Tyler continued. "I find you fascinating. You're so incredibly smart and talented; you're really fun to be with. Despite the circumstances earlier this week, I still had a good time just being with you."
Marie's smile slowly lowered. "And I you, Tyler."
Tyler's heart suddenly lurched, as if he had just taken an impossibly sharp turn in the van in pursuit of some bad guy. So, the reason she was trying to throw me off-balance was because she was feeling off-balance, and she's not used to that. Tyler considered that thought. Well, maybe not. But it would do my ego good to believe that. "Well, that's good to know," he said aloud. He took a breath. "I'm sorry about running out on you like that, Marie."
"Well, I'm sorry for making you uncomfortable, Tyler," Marie said.
"It's okay," Tyler said. "I'll try to be a little more resilient from here on out," he said with a grin.
Marie grinned back. She then shivered slightly. Tyler had discerned already that she was probably a bit chilly. "I'm a little cold standing here," she commented.
Tyler nodded. "Yeah, I understand. It's still early. If you want, we could maybe go out somewhere and get something to eat." He gestured toward her. "I'm sure you know someplace really good."
Marie smiled. "That sounds nice. I know just the place."
Tyler stepped out of the shower and saw Marie looking through the equipment that Sean had sent to them. She looked up as the door opened, smiled, and went back to analyzing the equipment.
"So, does it meet all of your standards?" Tyler asked.
"Yes. It's all very interesting," she said as she examined the robotic key. "But I don't understand what this does. Or this," she said, holding up the robotic card.
"Simple," Tyler said. "With the key, you insert it into the door and the metal, being as malleable as it is, reshapes itself to the tumblers inside the lock mechanism, automatically configuring itself to the lock. With the card, you slide it into a slot and it analyzes the correct sequence necessary to open the door. Quite amazing, really."
"I would imagine so," Marie said, placing the items back in the case. She looked back up into Tyler's eyes.
Tyler smiled. "You know, I had a really good time last night."
Marie smiled in return. "I did, too, Tyler."
"You were right about that restaurant; the food there was terrific."
Marie nodded. "Yes," she said with a laugh. "You mentioned that repeatedly last night."
Tyler grinned. "So I did. That's because it was true." He paused. "And sorry I was such a dud after the meal, too; I just couldn't keep my eyes open."
"I was wondering about that," Marie said. "It was still so early. Why were you so tired?"
Tyler shrugged. "Well, my shift back home runs between four in the morning and noon. So my schedule is pretty screwed up anyway; I usually go to bed around three or four in the afternoon."
Marie frowned. "Well, that would be nine or ten here, which doesn't explain why you were out at seven-thirty."
Tyler raised his hands in a helpless gesture. "I don't know. Jet lag shouldn't be a problem for me, right? But I think it's because I lost almost a full night of sleep on the way here. And then there was the whole thing with Sangsue. I just haven't gotten caught up totally."
Marie nodded. "Well, that would explain why you fell asleep-fully clothed, mind you-right after we got back to the room."
"Yeah, sorry about that."
"It's okay," Marie said with a smile.
The phone rang.
Tyler grabbed it. In English, he said, "Spencer's Pool Hall, Eight Ball speaking. It's your quarter, shoot." Marie let out a loud laugh before covering her mouth and falling back onto her bed, convulsing with laughter, holding her stomach.
"Who is this?" a man asked in French on the other end. "Where's Marie?"
"Just a moment," Tyler said, still in English. "For you," he said, holding the phone out to her.
"Hello, Max? This is Marie." She paused. "Yes, never mind my American friend. Do you have the information I asked for?" she asked with a small smile remaining on her face and a twinkle in her eye. As she listened to Max on the other end of the line, her smile slowly disappeared and changed into a frown. "Thank you."
"What is it?" Tyler asked as she hung up.
"Sangsue is going to disrupt the Metro."
"The subway?" Tyler asked.
"With a charge. When one of the trains goes over it," Marie said.
"Your contact found this out?"
"Yes, he's very good. He'll do anything for a quarter million francs."
"A quarter mill-" Tyler started. "How much is that in U.S. dollars?" he asked, trying to figure it.
"Um, that's a lot of money. He must be very good." Tyler frowned, patting his front pocket where had some folded currency. "Why does he want francs instead of euros?"
Marie shrugged. "He's weird."
"I see," Tyler said. He paused. "Where did you find that much money, anyway?"
"I used this," she said innocently, plucking Tyler's replacement Checkwolf credit card from the case.
Tyler's eyes bulged before he could get himself under control. He took a deep breath and nodded, then continued on. "Did Max also find out when this is supposed to happen, exactly?"
"Sometime between twelve and two this afternoon."
Tyler glanced at his watch. "That doesn't give us a lot of time."
"Directly underneath the Tuileries Gardens, which are-"
"Right next to the Louvre," Tyler finished. "He doesn't fool around, does he?"
"No, he doesn't."
"We'd better get moving."
"I need that detector," Tyler said, turning to Marie. They were in a deserted area of the Metro, Paris' subway system, also near the Louvre Museum. It was currently eleven past eleven in the morning. Supposedly Sangsue was going to make his move sometime between noon and two. Tyler planned on being ready for him since the local law enforcement didn't seem too interested in doing so.
They had contacted the police on their way to the Louvre, but the police hadn't taken a suddenly-retired policewoman and an American tourist very seriously. Still, they had assured him there would be some police presence on the scene, though Tyler had only seen a couple of cops at the station where they had descended into the Metro. For the most part, he anticipated that he and Marie would have to do this on their own, which was fine; he was accustomed to working that way.
Marie unzipped the backpack she was carrying and pulled out the electronic detection device and handed it to Tyler. Tyler accepted it with a nod and activated it. There were a couple of positive readings in their area, basically just corresponding to monitoring and control devices. Tyler canceled out those and was left with nothing, which meant that Sangsue must not have placed the bomb yet.
"Anything?" Marie asked.
Tyler shook his head. "Not yet. I guess we wait," he said, placing the detector to one side, leaving it activated. He then sat down and leaned against the cool, damp wall of the underground tunnel.
Marie sat next to him.
Tyler picked up the detector and made small adjustments to it, for lack of anything better to do, very aware of Marie's proximity to him. "So," Tyler said.
"So," Marie said.
"You were never really clear as to whether or not you intended to make me uncomfortable," Tyler said, basically just blurting out what he was thinking. Ah, the epitome of smooth.
Marie turned and looked at him. "Didn't I?"
"You want the truth?"
"Are you sure?"
Tyler glanced at Marie, who was idly picking at her fingernails. "Yes, I think so."
"Well," Marie began, "I honestly did intend to make you uncomfortable."
Marie shrugged. "Well, like you said, I usually get a lot of attention. I've gotten used to it. In fact, I've come to expect it. It doesn't bother me very much anymore when I find a man paying more attention to my chest than he does to my face." She shrugged again.
Tyler just nodded.
Marie took a deep breath. "Honestly, the thing is that when I was with you, walking in that field, I didn't feel that way. We were equals. You didn't treat me as a thing, you didn't seem uncomfortable, and it was nice." Marie paused. "And very different. Very, very few men treat me that way for very long, and I appreciated that."
"It's the way it should be."
"Perhaps. But it's not the way it is." Marie paused again. "But while I appreciated that, it's also true that I was attracted to you."
Tyler froze, his heart thumping in his chest.
"And so that, coupled with the fact that you didn't seem to be overly enamored with me, threw me a bit off-balance," Marie admitted. "I tried to make up for that by impressing you at the pool."
"Well, you certainly impressed me, Marie."
Marie smiled. "Yes, I noticed that. And I'm sorry."
"Um, that's okay, Marie," Tyler said, still fidgeting with the detector.
"Do you believe in love at first sight?" Marie asked suddenly.
Tyler coughed. "What do you mean?"
"Well, just what I said," Marie said, smiling. "Do you believe in love at first sight?"
Tyler felt his cheeks flushing. He cleared his throat.
"I'm sorry," Marie said sincerely. "I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."
"No, it's all right," Tyler said. "Actually, I don't think I do believe in love at first sight."
"Why is that?"
"Because, to me, love is something that's more than just skin deep," Tyler said. "You can't really love somebody until you know that person." He looked at Marie. "Do you know what I mean?"
Marie nodded. "I think so. Then perhaps what I'm feeling is simply infatuation."
Tyler looked at her.
"Don't you feel the same way?" Marie asked with a hint of trepidation. "Don't tell me that I've told you all of this only to find out that-"
Tyler placed his hand on Marie's shoulder. "I feel the same way, Marie."
Marie smiled and breathed a sigh of relief. "Good. I would have felt like such an idiot if . . . . Well, I don't have to worry about that, do I?"
"No," Tyler said with a smile.
"So we're not in love," Marie said.
"No, I don't think so," Tyler agreed. He smiled. "But I would certainly like to get to know you better."
Marie smiled in return. A flashing light on the detector in Tyler's hand caught her attention. "Um, Tyler?"
"What's that?" she asked, pointing at the display.
Tyler looked down. His eyes widened.
"What is it?"
"The bomb's here and it's been activated."
Marie checked her watch. "So soon? It's not even noon yet."
"There's no keeping madmen to schedules," Tyler said as he hurriedly stood up. "Grab the stuff. It's just down the tunnel," he said, looking at the display. He whipped out the stun pistol from his shoulder holster and started running in the direction of the bomb. Marie, startled, quickly grabbed the rifle, put the backpack over her shoulder, and ran after Tyler.
Tyler ran alongside the track on the narrow walkway that ran between terminals, getting closer and closer to the bomb. They must have just started on it, Tyler thought. They might even still be there. He heard Marie's footsteps close behind him. They were approaching a widening in the tunnel: the next terminal. He heard shouts of surprise and screams of fear. He ran faster. As he rounded the curve, he saw a flock of people fleeing out of the terminal to the streets above. He saw two men on the tracks, putting the finishing touches on the bomb. Tyler saw that it was connected to the third rail, so it would short out the power in the system when the bomb blew.
Suddenly, he heard a laugh. As he entered the terminal, he saw Sangsue. Sangsue saw him, as did several of his henchmen. Tyler dove out of the way as he saw several machine guns track toward him. He fired his pistol at the gunmen, nailing all three of them before they could even get a shot off.
"Don't move," he heard Sangsue growl in his ear. He felt the cold metal of Sangsue's gun pressed against his temple. Mistakenly, Tyler had dived in Sangsue's direction. There's an error in calculation. "Toss the gun aside," Sangsue ordered. Tyler did so as the two demolitionists finished and hurried out of the subway. "I take it you were trying to foil this statement."
Tyler didn't respond.
"I don't know how you got this information, but I will find out. Trust me, it will be most unpleasant for you." Tyler felt Sangsue's attention being diverted elsewhere. "What?" he said. Tyler then heard the unmistakable sound of a stun rifle being fired. Sangsue shrieked and fell to the ground, out cold.
"Thanks for the save, Marie," Tyler said.
Marie pointed at the track. "What about the bomb?"
"The bomb! When does the next train get here?" he asked as he ran toward the edge of the platform.
Marie checked her watch. "Soon!"
"Great," Tyler said as he jumped off the platform and onto the track. He crouched down and looked at the bomb. It was wired directly to the third rail and looked to be primed to blow by remote. They were evidently going to blow it when the next train passed, which would short out every other train on the line, causing a massive amount of monetary loss; but it would also destroy the train that passed over it, causing the death of anybody on the train. In fact, it looked like it packed enough explosive to blow out the ceiling overhead and cause serious damage to the Louvre, which was nearby. Okay, all I've got to do is stop this without electrocuting myself. "I wish Wil was here," he muttered.
Off down the tunnel, Tyler heard the distinct sound of the subway train coming. His eyes widened. He glanced at Marie. Her eyes were even wider. Tyler continued inspecting the bomb. Already he could feel the ground rumbling with the huge vehicle coming down the tunnel.
"Hurry!" Marie urged.
Tyler's eyes alighted on a small hole in the side of the bomb. He lowered himself closer to it for a better look, things already starting to become blurry from the shaking of the ground. Wil and Ryan had taught all of them basics in defusing bombs and it seemed to Tyler that if he was able to stick something through that hole, he could deactivate it. Or blow it up instantly. Well, I guess either way it's gonna go, so I might as well try and do something. The hole was small, about the width of . . . a straightened paper clip. His mind flew back to the airport days before and he saw himself casually tossing those two paper clips into the trash. Stupid!
Tyler reached into his pocket and pulled out his keys. He looked at them and saw a paper clip hooked around the ring. He didn't know how it got there, but that hardly mattered. He quickly straightened it and pulled it off the ring, dropping the keys in the process. A bright spotlight came around the bend. Or, rather, a bright headlight. The chilling sound of the train's horn blared as the driver saw the obstruction of Tyler on the track.
"Tyler!" Marie screamed over the roar of the train that was now only a few hundred yards away. "Hurry!"
Tyler's vision was becoming very distorted now. He blindly thrust the paper clip at the small hole on the side of the bomb, felt it skitter along the side a couple of times, and then finally go in, definitely contacting something. It didn't explode. Tyler grabbed his keys and ran for the subway platform. The conductor was blowing the horn constantly now, waving his hands for Tyler to get off the track, the brakes screeching as he tried to stop the train significantly sooner than he had been planning. Tyler felt adrenaline coursing through him as he vaulted onto the platform and rolled clear, mere seconds before the train thundered into the station.
Tyler simply laid with his face pressed to the cold concrete, breathing heavily as a pair of arms encircled him and he heard a voice, someone worriedly saying, "Tyler! Are you all right?"
He finally saw some policemen descend onto the platform as the train came to a stop and let out its busy passengers. One of the policemen called out, "Get a demolition team in here, now!" Then, in a quieter voice, the man said, "Marie. What happened here?"
"Sangsue," Tyler managed to get out, panting heavily, pushing himself up into a kneeling position.
Marie stood, looking around. "Where's Sangsue?" she asked, scanning the unconscious bodies of the terrorists.
"He's not here," the policeman said. "We did get one of his inner group, though. Was he here? What happened?"
Tyler listened as Marie recounted what Sangsue had been trying to do, watching as several officers surrounded Sangsue's men, handcuffing them and leading them away. He moved over to a nearby bench and sat down, looking with interest at one hand as it shook with adrenaline, though it seemed as if it were still shaking from the vibration of the train.
After a few moments, Marie sat down next to him. "Tyler, are you all right?" she asked again.
Tyler nodded. "Yeah," he said in English, since he was not feeling up to thinking in a foreign language. He was having enough trouble with English. "It worked, right?" He was more than a little amazed.
"Yes!" Marie replied in English. "You did wonderfully!"
"Good," he said with a smile. He rubbed his face with both hands and took a deep breath. "You hungry? Let's go get something to eat."
"So how do you want to handle all of this?" Tyler asked.
"How do I want to handle all of . . . what?" Marie asked, in English as they were now back in the States.
"Well, are we officially dating now, or what?"
"What would you call what we've been doing?"
Tyler grinned. "I don't know. We've gone out a couple of times, but are we officially dating?"
Marie leaned over and gave Tyler a peck on the cheek. "I would say yes."
Tyler grinned and squeezed Marie's hand. "Me, too."
"That'll be eight dollars," the cab driver said.
Tyler looked up. They were on the north side of Checkwolf headquarters. Tyler paid the man, handing him a ten. "Keep the change."
The driver tipped his hat. "You gonna need some help with that luggage?" he asked.
Tyler shook his head. "No, thanks. I think we can get it."
The driver nodded.
Tyler hauled down the first of Marie's three large bags and set it down for her to take. He then set down her other two and grabbed his, slinging them over his shoulders.
"Need some help?" Marie asked with an amused smile.
Tyler grinned. "Um, can you take another bag?"
"Sure thing," Marie said, picking up a second suitcase. She turned and they walked toward the back door. Marie looked down the block at the length of Checkwolf headquarters. "This building is very large."
"Yeah, it's pretty big," Tyler said. "But, I thought you'd seen pictures."
Marie shrugged. "It's bigger in person."
Tyler set down one bag and opened the door for Marie. They placed the luggage on the cargo elevator on the west side of the garage. "Before we go up, I want you to meet someone. If he's awake, that is." Tyler took Marie's hand and pulled her along with him.
"Who?" she asked as Tyler burst through the garage door, stepped across the wide corridor and through the west comm room door.
Jesse looked up as they entered. His eyes lingered on Marie a little while before seeing Tyler. "Hey, Tyler!" he called.
Tyler and Marie walked over to Jesse. "Jesse. How're things going around here?"
"You don't wanna know," Jesse said with a smile.
"This is Marie Darnay," Tyler said, gesturing. "Marie, Jesse Ince."
"Nice to meet you," Jesse said as he shook Marie's hand, smiling a bit more widely than usual.
"Likewise," Marie said, inclining her head.
"Is Sean up?" Tyler asked.
Jesse tipped his head toward Sean's office. "In his office."
Marie followed Tyler across the room to Sean's office, marveling at the size of the room and all of the high-tech equipment in it.
Tyler knocked on the door.
"Come in," Sean said.
Tyler opened the door. "We're back."
Sean looked up. "Hello!" he said with a smile on his face as he saw Marie. "Sean Matts," he said, holding his hand out as he stepped around his desk.
"Marie Darnay," Marie said, shaking his hand. "I am honored to meet you, Monsieur Matts."
"Honored?" Sean said with a laugh, glancing at Tyler, who was also smiling. "Well, let's not carry it that far. I'm pleased to meet you, too, Mademoiselle Darnay. Please, call me Sean."
"Sean, then. Call me Marie."
Sean nodded. "Very well." He looked at Tyler. "I assume you were planning on showing Marie to her room?"
"I was planning on it. Which one is hers?"
Sean consulted a small display on the wall. He pointed at one of the rooms. "Northwestern corner, above the garage. Upstairs."
Tyler turned to leave.
"One second," Sean said.
Tyler turned back.
"I have a question. I haven't heard from you in almost two weeks, when you said that you were 'on the way'. What took you so long?"
"Ah. I should have known."
Tyler smirked. "Well, you should have been able to deduce it, anyway." He turned to Marie. "Ready?"
She nodded. "It was nice to meet you, Sean. I look forward to getting started."
"Well, we'll give you a few days to get used to our schedule, and the country, before we push you too hard," he said with a smile as he sat back down. "We're glad to have you."
"And another thing, Tyler," Sean said.
Tyler raised an eyebrow.
"When you get her settled, I want you to come see me about this," Sean said, waving a sheaf of paper.
Tyler grinned. He realized that must be his expenses. "Sure."
"I'm hoping you have a good explanation."
Sean turned back to his desk as Tyler led Marie out of the room and back to the garage. As they rode the elevator up, Tyler told Marie about what Sean meant by "pushing." "He's probably talking about training room exercises, trial runs, oh, whole bunches of stuff. He'll want to know what your capabilities are before deciding which team to put you with."
"It all sounds very interesting. I'm looking forward to getting started," Marie reiterated.
Tyler guided the robotic dolly out of the elevator. "I'm looking forward to working with you," he said. "I hope he assigns us to the same squad."
Marie smiled. "I, too."
"Watch out there, bud!" a voice called. Tyler looked away from Marie and saw Clayton, as well as a woman that Tyler didn't recognize. "Tryin' to run me over?" he asked, a big grin on his face.
"Hey, Clayton. How long've you been back?"
"A few days. Who's your friend?"
"I was about to ask you the same thing," Tyler said. "This is Marie Darnay. Marie, Clayton Lee."
Clayton stepped around the dolly to shake her hand.
Tyler gestured to the other woman. "And . . . ?"
"Leah Thomas," she said, shaking first Marie's hand, then Tyler's.
"How was New York?" Tyler asked Clayton.
"I'll have to sit down and tell you sometime," he said, grinning. "How was Paris?"
"Eventful. Maybe we can meet up later and I can beat you at pool while I tell you about it," Tyler said with a smile.
Clayton laughed. "Sure. Well, we've gotta be going. Off to do some more training."
"The training room?"
"Nah. Driving," Clayton said.
Leah smiled. "I could use the practice."
"Have fun," Tyler said, waving as Clayton and Leah stepped into the elevator. He gestured at the room next to the elevator and stairwell. "Here we are." He set down Marie's bags and carried two of them inside. Marie carried the other.
Marie dropped the bag she had been carrying. Her mouth was wide open. "What am I supposed to do with all this space?"
"I still haven't figured that out," Tyler said. "But you'll get used to it. Eventually." He set down the suitcases and looked around. "Kinda drab in here right now, but I'm sure you'll spruce it up nice."
Marie looked around, too. "Well, it certainly needs some attention."
Tyler glanced at his watch. "Well, it's getting kinda late." He yawned. "And I'm sure Sean's got a ton of paperwork for me to fill out."
Marie nodded. "And I have to get myself unpacked, too."
"So, I'll see you tomorrow?"
Marie smiled. "Definitely. I'll see you to the door."
He stepped through the doorway and Marie leaned on the jamb. "Bye," Tyler said.
Marie licked her lips and then impulsively leaned forward and kissed Tyler briefly. "Good night," she whispered as she shut the door.
Tyler placed one palm against the door and leaned his forehead on it. "Yeah. Good night."