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PART TWO: LE BIVOUAC

CHAPTER 4

Dom felt the flush run through his blood. His skin warmed with the heat of it. His pupils contracted, protecting his hypersensitive eyes from the flickering glow of all the bulbs in the lights. Pressure waves against his ears made them pop. He could read micro-changes in the expression of the woman in the lemon silk dress, and in doing so, he knew her thoughts before she did. 

A shard of glass the size of his hand drifted lazily past. It, and everything else in the room, was traveling in slow motion. To someone unused to this phenomenon, it appeared as if time had slowed to a crawl, but Dom knew better. Time existed everywhere, all at once; it was indifferent to forces that tried to influence it. It could neither go forward nor backward. It could not speed up, and it could not be slowed down. All of those quantifications were subjective measurements, based on the persistence of a point of observation. You had to witness time in order to quantify what direction it was moving. 

All of which is to say that, to Dom, time appeared to have slowed, but what other observers would notice—even though they were incapable of understanding what they were seeing—was that Dom was moving faster than they. How Dom was capable of such a thing was beyond his understanding. The few times he had tried to explain it to very smart individuals, he had come to the realization that he was, essentially, trying to describe the luminous quality of light on a landscape to someone who had been born without eyes. 

While everyone else in Le Bivouac was still registering the first flicker of incandescent light upon their irises, Dom had watched the world shiver and spit, a silver rupture that bloomed like tulips opening to pay homage to the morning sun. Dom stared at the doorway—for that is what it was, even though he had never seen one like this. How was this happening? He thought. Doors required, well, thresholds, walls, archways—frames that defined them. You couldn’t make a door out of nothing. It had to be something. 

What Dom was struggling with was that his understanding of time travel revolved around symbolic representations of thresholds. You crossed from one space to another via the mechanism of a “door.” And yes, even though it was a philosophical abstraction made manifest through a communal history of architecture and living spaces, it made it possible for our brains to not short-circuit as you went from When to Then. To make a door where there was no “door” was—well, it was far beyond his skill. 

But we shall have to set aside further philosophical considerations because there were other things that were not bound to the lethargic temporality that held everyone in place. Someone came through the silver rupture, and Dom had a moment to register a flurry of vermillion and black before the rupture pulsed and swelled. Like something was trying to force its way through. 

The person who had tumbled through the rip wore a long cloak. It was a color Dom associated with Titian—the sixteenth century Venetian painter—and it was a style he did not recognize. It had wide shoulders and slits where you could put your arms through. It had a hood, but it was thrown back, allowing him to see a head of tousled black hair. The individual wore high boots that were equally black, and their sleeves and hands were covered with black cloth. Even the weapon they held in their hand was black. 

It was all very stylish. Not quite as a chic as the dress the woman standing next to Dom was wearing, but what it lacked in couture, it made up for in practicality. 

The tear-shaped doorway shivered and expanded, interrupting Dom’s assessment and appreciation of the traveler’s garb. The silver film across the portal tore, and more things spilled out. 

They were not as stylish as the traveler in the vermilion robe. They were, in a word, utilitarian. Predatory, in another word. And let’s add ‘armored and armed’ to bring it up to five words. Yes, five is enough, because there is no time for further examination. 

The beetle-faced men had guns, and they, like Dom and the traveler, were all riding the same wave. They scuttled out of the rip, and five of them made it through before the teardrop shivered and compressed itself into nothingness. 

Dom started to inhale, and the elastic loop he had slipped into snapped. He pinched his eyes shut, knowing the sudden collapse of the time wave was going to register as a manic burst of light. Sound, which had been a slow hum like the echo of a thousand Buddhist monks chanting in the bottom of a deep well, scaled up to a frantic screech of breaking glass and panicked screams. There was gunfire—the steady blat blat blat of a handgun, followed by the guttural snarl of an automatic rifle. 

Dom lunged for the woman standing next to him, her mouth was still stretching through her first scream, and he knocked her down. Behind him, he heard the discordant chimes of crystal glassware shattering. 

“Stay down,” he shouted at the terrified woman underneath him. He rolled away before she could say anything, before the thought of speaking even started to form in her brain. He was still in the flush of the time wave. He was—in the parlance of an industry still in its infancy—slipping between frames. 

The beetle-men were too, their movements a parody of stuttering and flickering. Like the lights were going on and off—even though they weren’t—and the beetles jumped from one spot to the next during those brief instances of darkness. 

The traveler fired their weapon again. Dom was surprised to hear it bark in a rapid fashion. Guns that small were not capable of automatic fire. Well, not guns in this time period, he mentally corrected. Much like the armor the beetle-men were wearing, the traveler’s weapon had to come from the future. 

The beetle armor, by the way, was bullet proof. Or, at the very least, bullet resistant. Dom watched one of the beetles jerk as it was hit by the traveler’s weapon, but the only damage it suffered were scratches and blemishes on its grey hide. 

The beetle guns were automatic as well, and they fired rounds that trailed fire. One of the beetles raked his weapon across the room, trying to hit the traveler, who wove a frantic path through the chaos of dying patrons and exploding place settings. 

Dom spotted a steak knife, and he scooped it up as he charged toward the nearest beetle. They were men in armored suits, he figured. They were not actual beetles. And since they were men, it would follow that they had all the frailties of men under their carapaces. The trick, as any student of historical military tactics would tell you, is to exploit the inherent weakness of your opponent’s armor. Since it was not one seamless piece, it was a matter of finding that small opening between plates. That gap between shields. The places where joints bent. 

There, he thought. The back of the knees. He slashed with the knife, and felt it skitter off the hard armor. He tried again at the top of the thigh, without much more luck. There was another place, between the legs, but he had no hope of reaching it as long as his opponent was upright. 

The beetle whirled, sensing his attempts, and Dom slipped under the man’s arm. He was close enough to dance and—yes, there! he thought, under the arm. He drove the knife up, and felt it go in. 

He shoved his opponent, backing him against a table. The beetle made a keening noise, like a fire alarm going off in another room, as Dom stabbed him again. They were sprawled across the table, and looking up, Dom saw where the beetle’s helmet was not flush with the man’s neck. He pulled the knife out and stabbed the beetle there. 

The beetle man shrieked and started flailing his limbs. His suit and carapace started to smear, like someone was wiping paint across a canvas. The noise the beetle was making fractured—a radio signal cutting in and out—and black flames began to consume his body.  

Dom rolled away, worried that this eldritch conflagration would touch him. He fell off the table, and by the time he got to his feet, the beetle man was gone. There was nothing left of him. The only evidence he had been there at all was a scattering of white ash on the table. 

And his gun. 

Dom risked a glance around the room. The room stank of death and violence, a rank smell that threw Dom back to the muddy trenches of France during the First World War. There was ash on the floor near him—the dusty remnant of another beetle man. He grew aware of the sound of sirens, coming through the smashed glass of Le Bivouac’s front door. 

The woman in the lemon silk dress was leaning against the bar, her body shaking. Her face was wet with tears. She was in shock, but she didn’t appear to be hurt in any other way. 

Dom looked around once more. The traveler and the remaining beetle-men were gone. Judging by the trail of destruction leading to the smashed glass doors, they had vacated the restaurant. Dom scooped up the beetle man’s weapon and strode over to the woman in the lemon dress. He grabbed her arm, getting her attention. “Do you have a room here?” 

She stared at him, mouth hanging open. “A room,” he said again. “We can’t stay here.” 

She nodded, understanding coloring her face. He started to lead her away, but she lunged back toward the bullet-scarred bar, her hands scrabbling for her clutch. Dom let her get it—hell, he was going to have a smoke too as soon as they got out of this place—and while she got her purse, he went to a nearby table and grabbed a bottle of wine that had miraculously remained upright during the firefight. 

She was going to have questions. There was no way around that. But better to lie to her than to the local police. She would want to believe him,  she would want to put the whole event behind her, and she would welcome anything that would help her do that. A well-spun lie. A—he glanced at the label of the bottle he had grabbed—oh, lovely, a '52 Chateau d'Yquem, he noted. This'll do the trick. 

The police, on the other hand . . . oh, they would have no end of questions. None of which Dom had good answers for. Nor would they be interested in helping with the questions he had. Who was the traveler? for one. And where had they come from?

No. Not where. When . . .

*

CHAPTER 5

Her third-floor suite was modest, by the standards of the hotel, and it had a small sitting area and a private bath. The room looked out over the avenue, and Dom spared a brief glance toward the street below as he adjusted the heavy curtains. As he expected, the road was blocked with police and emergency vehicles. They’ll be there all night, he thought.

The traveler had fled the Hôtel Napoleon, with at least one of the beetle-men in pursuit, which meant the focus of the police would be outside the hotel. They would, undoubtedly, send some officers to question the guests, but if he kept his wits about him, he would avoid detection during that sweep. It’s Clemenceau all over again, he thought, recalling that night in 1940 when he and a school teacher had played cat-and-mouse with German soldiers after a student demonstration had gotten unruly.

The woman in the lemon silk dress was sitting on the edge of the bed, staring at the far wall. She hadn’t said a word since she had whispered the number of her room when they had left Le Bivouac. She was in shock, horrified and rattled by what she had seen in the restaurant. But Dom could tell there was a reservoir of strength within her. She had shed no tears since they had come upstairs, and her breathing was slow and steady.

Dom crossed the room to where he had put her clutch and the bottle of wine. He took two cigarettes out of her case, lit them both with a single match, and offered her one. Focusing slowly, she reached for his hand. Her fingers were cool, but they were steady. She slipped the cigarette between her lips, and Dom could see her attention suck back in on itself as she inhaled.

He found wineglasses and an opener in the cupboard near the bath. The Napoleon was, after all, a hotel of some distinction and regard. It catered to the needs and desires of its guests. He drew the cork out of the ’52 Chateau d’Yquem and poured a liberal amount in each glass. He offered her one, noticing that she responded more quickly and more directly this time than when he had offered her a cigarette.

Leaning against the wall beside the bed, he took a sip from a glass. The Chateau d’Yquem was a Sauternes, a sweet wine, and the wines from this vineyard were well known for their depth and sweetness. Something to do with how the grapes were affected by a localized fungus. If the weather was dry, the grapes would shrivel, becoming partial raisined and—

The woman had finished her glass already. She held it out, and Dom fetched the bottle and refilled her glass, though only a third of the way this time.

“What—what is this?” she asked, her voice even huskier than before.

“A Chateau d’Yquem,” Dom said. “A ’52, I believe.”

She took a more reasonable sip. “It reminds me of—” A single tear tracked down her cheek. She took in a long breath that made her body shake. “What happened down there?”

“I don’t honestly know,” Dom said.

She looked at him, her eyes bright with more tears. “Are you—what are you?” She paused, reconsidered her question and rephrased it. “Who are you?”

“My name is . . “ Dom decided on the lie he was going to use. He cleared his throat slightly, mentally prepping himself for the faint accent work that was to follow. “My name is Dominion Oberon. I’m with a very special international organization that has been tasked with constraining the spread of certain political influences.”

“You’re a spy,” she said, getting to the heart of it.

“If you like,” Dom said, neither denying nor confirming. She has a good ear, he thought. He had put just a whisper of that arch British aristocracy into the intonation of his consonants. Flattened the curve on his vowels. Enough for the clever listener to think he wasn’t a native French-speaker. He had, in fact, learned French while at Oxford, but that was a very long time ago.

She took another sip of her wine. “That’s—Dominion . . . That’s an unusual name.”

“It was my adopted uncle’s favorite pastime,” he said.

“Adopted?” She wrinkled her nose. “I think you might be lying to me,” she said.

“Probably,” he replied. He refilled her glass. “With that be a problem?’

“No,” she said after a moment of reflection. She made eye contact and found a tiny smile. “I’m Chaumonieux,” she said.

Dom sipped his wine and let it roll around his mouth as he considered whether she was lying to him. It wouldn’t hurt his feeling anyway. People lie about themselves all the time, especially when they meet as strangers in bars. More so where there is violence involved. Hers was an uncommon name—one that could prove complicated if chosen rashly. “There are a lot of vowels in your name,” he said carefully.

“The boys like watching me say it.”

“I can’t imagine why,” Dom said, his imagination doing the work just fine, in fact.

“There’s an ‘X’ on the end of it,” she added.

“Of course there is,” he said. “Because your father was a pirate?”

“My mother could have been,” she said. “My father, alas, merely had literary aspirations. Like every other intellectual of his era. Sadly, the best he could do was ensure that my name would always be misspelled and mispronounced during my school years.”

“It’s too refined a name for schoolyard hooligans,” he said. “Not that you bothered with such ruffians, of course.”

She made an elegant roll of her shoulders, a movement that told him she was starting to relax. She sipped from her glass and smoked her cigarette for a quiet moment, as if she was deciding on the lie she was going to tell. “I may have,” she admitted finally. “But what could you expect from a wild child, growing up without parents after the war? You could say I was destined for salacious behavior with a name like that.”

“Was it drugs?” he asked. “Prostitution?”

She leaned forward and dropped her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “Artists’ communes.”

“Good lord,” Dom said, definitely thickening the words with the faux classist outrage so adored by British gentry.

“There were drugs, of course,” she said. She drank from her glass, watching him over the rim. Her right foot started too dance. “And there may have been . . .” She arched an eyebrow.

Dom arched one in return as he poured a little more of the Chateau d’Yquem into her glass. He was no stranger to that flush which came over people who had narrowly avoided injury and death. That sudden desire to celebrate being alive. If the bomb had landed a mite closer, if that bullet hadn’t ricocheted, if they hadn’t jumped from the carriage when they had—yes, they would no longer have need of air or light or the touch of another. The passage of Death’s angel pushed the living together. Let us fight off this preternatural chill together, darling. Let us tend to our tiny fires and blaze fiercely into the eternal void.

It was Casanova who said: “Tell them you are immortal, and watch their passion burn away all their resolve.” Or was it the Comte de Saint Germain? Dom could never remember. In all likelihood, it was probably something Casanova attributed to the Comte. Regardless, in Dom’s experience, the axiom held true.

Chaumonieux arched her back and lifted her head. “I was supposed to meet someone tonight,” she said.

“Were you?” Dom refilled his glass.

“Why else would I have dressed like this?”

“I assumed you dress like that every night,” he said.

She gave him a playful smile. “Of course you did.”

He made a dismissive gesture. “I’m sure the boys tell you this quite often.”

“No,” she admitted. “They rarely do. Mostly they pretend I’m not there. It is better for them that way.”

“And why is that?”

“Because the man I was supposed to meet gets very jealous.” She indicated the suite around them. “That is why we meet in places like this. No one knows. No one sees us. No one talks. No one has to hide their feelings.”

“I see,” Dom said. “And when you aren’t meeting this certain someone, who are you?”

She gave him a smile that was both disarming and hungry. “I’m a spy,” she said.

Dom hesitated for a second. “And now it is my turn to think you are lying to me.”

“Probably,” she said. She held out her glass. Her hand drifted slightly, and Dom had to touch her wrist to stop it so he could pour more wine.

“Will I recognize his name?” Dom asked.

“Which?” Chaumonieux asked.

Dom eyed her for a moment. “The dangerous one.”

Chaumonieux touched her tongue to her lower lip. Her foot danced. “Belette,” she said. She watched his face, eager to see his reaction to the name.

Dom hiccuped slightly. He steadied his wine glass against his lip and tried not to dribble around the edge of the glass. Belette? Had he heard her correctly?

“Belette,” he said carefully as he lowered his glass. There was wine on his wrist, and he felt like there was some on his chin as well. Chaumonieux’s eyes were bright with a wicked light. Dom cleared his throat. “Would that be Georges Belette, by chance?”

She shook her head.

“Alain?” he tried.

She continued to shake her head.

“Henri?”

“He is an only child,” she said, cutting short his exploration of the possible Christian names of her mysterious date.

“Well,” Dom said, doing his best to maintain his poise. “I must be thinking of someone else,” he said. Inside, he was anything but poised. Belette! he thought. How in the hell did this happen? But even as he had the thought, he also realized how such a coincidence was anything but. The traveler, he thought. She came through time . . .

Chaumonieux stood up and stumbled forward as the blood rushed out of her head. Dom took a step forward to steady her, and they were suddenly in very close proximity. He was enveloped in her perfume, along with a muskiness of something else—fear? excitement? He wasn’t even sure if it was coming from her.

“You are not thinking of someone else,” Chaumonieux said. Her lips were very close to his. “This time, I know you are lying.”

Dom held his ground. His hand fell against her hip. “What if I told you that I owed a man named Belette a sum of money?”

“How much?” Her lips barely moved.

“It is an inconsequential amount compared to how angry he would be if he were to see how close I am to you right now,” Dom said.

“Yes,” she said. “It could be all the jewels in Europe and it would not be enough to assuage his anger.”

“You like that about him, don’t you?”

Her eyelashes lowered. “I like how he makes me feel,” she said.

“And me?” Dom asked. “How do I make you feel?”

She bit her lip, forcing her giggle back into her throat. Her hand was on his chest now, her fingers plucking at his shirt.

They were startled by a knock at the door. “Madam? Monsieur?” The voice was muffled, but there was no mistaking the officious tone. “Préfecture de Police. May we have a moment?”

*

CHAPTER 6

As the police banged on the door again, Dom stared intently at Chaumonieux, trying to get a read on her. What would she say if they opened the door? Would she take this opportunity to bolt? Or would she play along with whatever charade he came up with?

What charade are you going to come up with? a part of him asked. You don’t have much time.

“Madame?” The voice was more insistent. “Monsieur?”

“Just a moment.” Chaumonieux surprised him by speaking first. She handed him her wine glass, and when she brushed past him, he threw the glasses aside and grabbed her roughly. He pawed the strap of her gown off her shoulder, and before she could free, his fingers found the zipper in the back of her dress. He yanked it down savagely.

Chaumonieux surprised him again. She whipped around, her open hand striking him hard across the face. Her eyes were bright with rage, and that same part of him that had recently squawked about a plan marveled at her indignant beauty.

“What are you—”

“Sell it,” he hissed at her. “Convince them we were not downstairs. It’s the only way.”

A fist pounded hard against the door. Chaumonieux flinched. Her glare said she was not done with him, and Dom hoped that was going to be the case. All you have to do is get them to go away, he thought fiercely as she spun toward the door.

He scanned the room again, trying to figure out where he should be when she opened the door. You’re overdressed, the voice in his head reminded him. If she tells them the two of you have been otherwise engaged, you’ve got on too many clothes . . . At the same time, he didn’t want to risk leaving anything behind if—

The gun! Where had he put the gun? He spotted it on the side table on the other side of the room. He darted toward the table as Chaumonieux reached the door.

“Ah, Madame. Please—oh, I’m sorry. We’re—”

She was a striking woman when she was fully clothed and well-presented. Now, with her dress half-undone and her cheeks flushed and her eyes bright from the wine, she was a stunning siren that would steal the breath from any man who laid eyes on her. “Who are you?” she demanded, her husky voice sharp with annoyance and anger.

Préfecture de Police,” the man in the hall said. “There has been an—an incident. We are merely ensuring the safety of all the guests of the hotel.”

“Do I look like I am in danger?” she demanded. Dom marveled at her brazenness. It would not be difficult to see her state of undress as not entirely of her desire, and he was sure the police—highly sensitive to anything out of the ordinary—were trying to figure out whether she was in distress or if she was engaged in some—what had she called it? Ah, yes—wanton frolicking. And for her to ask them outright like this was challenging them to decide one way or another.

He couldn’t see her face. Maybe her eyes were telling a different story. Maybe she was an incredible actress, and what she was saying was not what she was telling. Dom reached the gun and laid his hand on its smooth shape. What was she doing? He would know in another second or two . . .

“No. No, Madame. You do not . . .”

“I do not what?”

“Excuse us, Madame. We are merely attempting to . . . Are you—are you alone?”

“Do I look like I’m alone?”

“May we . . . May we see your guest?”

She gave them a throaty laugh. “Do you want to watch? Is that it?”

The gun Dom had taken from the beetle man was a design he had never seen before. At first, he had thought it to be an oversized pistol, but it was more like a shortened assault rifle. It reminded him of the beetle men’s armor—smooth all over, with precise angles. It had a very short barrel, and it made him think of English bulldogs. Squat, ugly, with no snout. What it lacked in aesthetics, it probably made up for in other ways, much like the bulldogs. He assumed there were still cartridges in the magazine, which was most likely in the back of the weapon, but he didn’t dare take the time to figure out how to check.

The policeman’s tone shifted, becoming more serious. “Madame, we do not wish to be a bother, but this is a very serious situation. We need to know who is in this suite with you, and we need to know right now.”

Dom glanced at the window. They were on the third floor. There was no balcony, and if he remembered the front of the Hôtel Napoleon correctly, there was a terrace over a portion of the main floor. He had been more interested in the police presence in the street than checking whether going out the window was a viable escape route.

The only other door led to the private bath. If there was a window in there, it would be tiny and of no help in this situation. All he could do was barricade himself in there, which wasn’t a very good idea either.

He eyed the door. If only . . . he thought, and then immediately dismissed the thought. Doors remained doors. He hadn’t been able to make them change for weeks now. He had been bereft of his unusual ability before—those last few days before Maximilien Robespierre lost his own head, for instance—but there were always extenuating circumstances that clearly explained the absence. No, he couldn’t rely on that possibility. He had to find another way.

Holding the gun behind him, he moved toward the door of the suite. “What do they want?” he demanded loudly. “What is going on?”

Chaumonieux stiffened as he approached, and he could feel the tension radiating out of her body as he came up behind her. “What is this?” he demanded once he could see into the hall.

There were two policemen outside the room. One was tall and one was broad. Both were flushed, sweaty, and as tense as Chaumonieux. The tall one had a fancy mustache that probably looked very refined when the mood was less fraught. Now, it bristled like a badger’s tail. “Monsieur,” the tall one said, eyeing Dom. “There has been an incident.”

“Not in here there hasn’t,” Dom said.

The shorter officer furrowed his brow. Dom marked him as the one who would react first. The tall one fancied himself an intellectual—just look at that mustache, after all—and he would keep talking as long as that was an option. The other one would feel slighted in some fashion—sooner than later—and he would fall back on the basic roles everyone was supposed to play. In his case: the man of the law. Dom had met many men like him, in many different times, and they were all the same. They liked to be on the side of the fist and the gun, because that was easy.

“No, no,” the tall one said. “Elsewhere in the hotel. We are merely—”

“Papers,” the shorter one snapped. “We need to see your papers.”

That didn’t take long, Dom thought. “Look,” he said. “Is this really necessary?” He put his hand lightly on Chaumonieux’s bare shoulder. To her credit, she didn’t flinch. In fact, she leaned back against him. He felt a shiver run through her frame. She knows, he thought. She knows about men like this. “The lady and I were about to . . .” He trailed off, his fingers gliding across her warm skin.

The tall one’s eyes tracked across Chaumonieux’s body, his mustache quivering. Dom knew what he was thinking, and he approved. Whatever gets them to move on, he thought.

The shorter one, however, was not as easily distracted. He stared up at Dom. His eyes were tiny in his broad face, and they got tinier when he squinted. The man’s face hardened, and Dom also knew what he was thinking. A man like that has never been with a woman like her, he thought, and that will be our undoing, won’t it?

“My name is Belette,” he said quickly. “Benoit Belette.” Chaumonieux froze against him, a statuesque block of marble. “Do you know who I am?”

The tall one did not. The shorter one did. It was clear on their faces. Does he know him by name or by face? Dom wondered, glaring at the shorter officer. Does he know him by reputation?

Several emotions marched across the shorter officer’s face. Surprise. Confusion. Apprehension. Then, sluggishly, like a broad beast struggling out of the muck, a final realization. Fear.

“Monsieur Belette,” the short one said. “I—this is a surprise. Our apologies for disturbing you.”

Chaumonieux began to breath again. Dom let his hand fall from her shoulder. He shifted slightly to his right as he slid his arm around her waist. She nestled against his chest.

“We are merely performing a routine investigation,” the officer said. “We want to ensure that all guests of the hotel are safe and accounted for.”

“Of course,” Dom said. “You are doing a fine job. Carry on.”

The taller officer wasn’t convinced. He clearly didn’t know who Belette was, or why his companion’s mood has suddenly turned. He had an idea, of course, he wasn’t a complete idiot. But he didn’t like the idea forming in his head, and he was trying to resist it. He was—yes, it was that mustache that gave him away—too much of a romantic thinker. Too much of an idealist. They never last, Dom thought, a little sadly.

The shorter office grinned, and there was something sickly and unsavory in the expression. Dom realized he hadn’t been paying attention to the shorter man’s eyes. They had changed. There was a different light in them now. Not fear. Opportunity.

“Your face,” the shorter office said. “When did you shave?”

“My what?” Dom asked.

The officer gestured to his chin. “Your beard. It is missing.”

Chaumonieux sighed, and Dom knew in that instant that his ruse had been revealed.

He brought up his hand with the gun, brandishing the weapon in the face of the two officers. They shied back, and he seized the opportunity presented by their reaction. He pushed Chaumonieux forward, and she stumbled into the arms of the taller officer. The gun sizzled and spat when he pulled the trigger, and the weapon twitched in his hand. He had been aiming over their heads, and rounds from the gun stitched their way across the wall opposite.

He darted back, slamming the door as soon as he could. He threw the lock and backed into the room. Outside, the officers shouted and someone banged on the door. He only had a minute or two before they breached the door. And after those two, there would be others. He had to get out. He had to escape.

He considered the window and the door to the bath. Which way?

Behind him, the suite door shuddered as someone kicked it. They were coming.

Which way?

*

CHAPTER 7

Dom jerked the curtains open. The street below was still filled with police vehicles, their lights making a jaunty parade of lights across the facades of the surrounding buildings. There was no way to leave the suite this way without being seen. Nor without falling several stories, the pragmatic part of his brain pointed out.

Dom flipped the lock on the sash and slammed his hands against the frame. The window didn’t budge.

Stepping back, he raised the gun and blasted the window. Glass shattered, and the night air rushed in. The street below was noisy with voices and sirens, and he used the barrel of the gun to knock out the remaining shards of the window. Leaning out the broken window, he verified what he already knew: the only way down was a straight drop. Sure, he’d probably survive, but making the jump and then avoiding a street full of police? There was no chance of that.

Behind him, the suite door shivered in its frame. Wood cracked. On the next kick, the door frame splintered. He caught sight of the two policemen in the hall.

Dom ran for the bathroom door. It was partially closed, and he slammed against it, pushing it shut. Putting his back to the door, he pointed the gun across the room, and when the officer with the mustache came into view, he called the man’s attention to the weapon. “Right there is fine,” Dom said.

The officer stumbled to a halt, his hands upraised. Crowding behind him was the short officer—the one who had called his bluff. Both men were wary of the gun in Dom’s hand.

“There is nowhere to go, Monsieur,” the mustachioed officer said. “Let’s not do something we’ll regret.”

“I regret many things already,” Dom said. “I have no qualms about adding to the list.”

Feeling behind him, Dom found the doorknob to the bathroom. It was smooth and cool to his touch. You have to do this, he thought. Whatever block he had been suffering from, he had to overcome it. Right now. Otherwise, he was going to be arrested. Sure, he had escaped from prison before—many times, in fact, but this wasn’t the time to get all self-congratulatory about his previous exploits.

“This is, undoubtedly, a misunderstanding,” the officer said, his mustache quivering. “Put down the gun. Let us discuss this, like civilized gentlemen.”

“Over tea?” Dom asked.

The officer spread his hands. “If you like. I’m sure we can have the staff bring some up. Do you have a preference?”

“It can’t be found in the city,” Dom said ruefully. “Believe me, I’ve tried.”

“I’m sure we can work something out,” the officer said. He wan’t going to be deterred, and why wouldn’t he? The alternative was getting shot, and he wasn’t eager to experience that.

Dom slid to his right. He was beside the door now. He still had his hand on the knob. It hadn’t changed. It was still cool. His palms were sweaty. Focus, he thought. Stop chatting with this idiot and focus!

The officer was talking, but Dom wasn’t listening. His attention had been drawn to the curtains, which were fluttering from a sudden breeze. The flashing lights outside were suddenly in sync with his heartbeat—a stuttering strobe of red-blue-blue-red-red-blue-blue . . . The doorknob—yes!—was it warmer? His face was definitely warmer too, flush with all the blood coursing rapidly through his veins.

Dom tightened his grip on the knob. It threatened to slip out of his grasp.

Across the room, the short officer shoved his partner aside. There was something in his hand, something ugly and metallic. The mustache shook his head, his mouth stretching to shout a single word.

Dom turned the knob and opened the bathroom door. He rolled off the wall and tumbled through the opening. Distantly, he heard a barking noise, like a neighborhood dog sounding an alarm, and the air crackled around him. For a brief instant, he thought his clothes had caught fire, and then he banged his thighs against a low table.

Who puts a table there? He thought, and then his outstretched hands encountered the maple frame of an oil painting, and he knew the answer to his question. He spun around and looked back.

He was not in the private bath of a third floor suite at the Hôtel Napoleon. He was in the foyer of a modest apartment. The front door was open, and through it, he could see the hotel suite, as well as the pair of police officers.

The short one had a gun, and before the man could recover from his shock—and indeed, he was shocked by what he saw—Dom grabbed the door. It was open on this side, even though he had opened it over there a moment ago—this was one of the idiosyncrasies of travel which Dom did not spend too much time thinking about. He slammed the door shut, knowing that the door in the hotel would, seemingly, close on its own accord. A sight that would, no doubt, further alarm the two police officers.

The door rattled in its frame as it closed, and Dom stood still for a moment, holding his breath. He heard nothing. No sirens. No voices. Nothing to indicate that the Hôtel Napoleon was on the other side of the door.

Dom wiped his hand dry on his jacket. His fingers were shaking, and he really wanted a stiff drink. He eyed the door. He didn’t want to open it. It’s closed, he thought. You did it.

But he had to be sure.

He put his ear to the door and listened. Nothing. His heart racing, he put his hand on the latch. He didn’t feel anything. It was just a latch—a latch he touched every time he left his modest apartment on Rue de Mézièzes, in fact, because that was where he was. In the foyer of his apartment. He wasn’t in the private suite bathroom at the Hôtel Napoleon. He was in his own home.

He lifted the latch and pulled the door open a crack. He peered out and saw the hallway outside his apartment. The same hallway he always saw. Everything was—

Something obscured the light for a moment. He blinked, and found himself staring at a woman’s face. She was wearing a hood, and because she was blocking the light, he wasn’t quite sure of the color. “Let me in,” she hissed.

“What—?” He tried to force the door closed, but she had wedged something in the way. He leaned against the door, but she was faster and stronger than he anticipated. She shoved hard, and the door caught him in the face. He cursed loudly as he stumbled back, bumping into that damn table again. Why had he put that there?

She came into his apartment in a swirl of vermilion. He recognized her then. Not from her face, which he hadn’t seen clearly before, but by the color of her cloak.

“We need to talk,” the traveler said.

CONTINUE TO PART THREE :: RETURN