A Whateley Academy Tale
December 24th, 1988
The air shimmered in the cold, empty apartment. Then three people appeared, two of them holding each other, clutching their stomachs, while the third stood off to the side chuckling.
“The nausea will go away in a few seconds. Now pay me and get the hell out,” the chuckling man said.
“Give us a moment, Déménageur” John, also known of Mille, said. “Where's your Christmas spirit?”
“Used up getting your asses out of Berlin before you ended up very, very dead. If Gruber didn't catch you, the Stasi would have, I'm really not sure which would be worse.”
Reaching into his emergency bag, John pulled out a large roll of British pounds, and put it in the mans hand. Marionette handed him a slightly larger roll of American dollars.
“I believe I said all of your money.”
“That's over five-thousand pounds! And you were going to Paris anyways,” John said.
“I took a risk for you. And I'm not going to be welcomed back into Berlin or East Germany for a while if they find out I got you out.”
Pulling out his wallet, he took out five hundred West German Marks, and a hundred East German marks. Taking the thousand or so mixed bills held out by Marionette, he handed it over. “Are we done?”
Déménageur looked them over. His eyes landed on Marionette's chest, then he looked at John's belt. “Hand it all over or I'll send you back to Germany.”
Scowling, he took off his belt opened a very well hidden seam and pulled out twenty American hundred dollars bill. Marionette had turned around and was fiddling with her shirt and bra, when she turned back she was holding a mix of Spanish peseta and French franc's. John guessed it was around a thousand of each, the very last of their emergency funds.
Putting the money on the table, Déménageur nodded. “Now we're done, remember you still owe me a favour. There's the door,” he said, pointing to the door.
“Merry Christmas, may you get exactly what you deserve,” John said. Marionette didn't say anything, just put her hand on his shoulder and guided him to the door.
Before they reached the street, John had altered his looks a little, making his blond hair brown, a slightly larger nose, gave himself a slight tan, and fuller lips. Taking Marionette's hand, he asked in English that sounded like a native Londoner, “Well should we get some breakfast? The jackass was kind enough to let me keep a few francs.”
“Yeah, I'm starving,” Marionette said, in her faint American Midwestern accent. “And I need a bathroom. I've had this wig on since yesterday morning, my head is itchy as hell.”
Walking arm in arm, they walked a little ways down the street. Thankfully they were dressed for winter in Berlin, the cool temperatures of Paris was practically springlike with their winter wear. They were in one of the poorer neighbourhoods, so there weren't many Christmas decorations, but John found his spirits lifting a little as he walked along the street. He'd spent a few years living in the city as a teenager, learning the tricks of the trade, it was good to be back.
Entering a decent looking cafe, he went and ordered breakfast for both of them, using up all of his money, while Marionette headed straight for the bathroom. Taking a seat by the window, he thought about their current predicament.
The Gruber job had made them a small fortune, his accountant was already moving something just north of five-hundred-thousand German marks around. But their cover had been blown before they'd been able to get out of East Germany. Worst of all the Stasi had pinpointed them for a bit of a con that had left a few high level bureaucrats and their department a fair bit poorer. They'd managed to escape with their emergency bags, and nothing else.
Now he was officially Jean Durand, without a cent to his name, until he could get one of his regular ID's. Since it was Christmas eve, that would take a few days. This wasn't exactly how he'd expected to spend Christmas. Still it was all part of the game. They'd made their money, got out alive, they could handle a few days in the poorhouse. They'd done it before.
Marionette came to the table shortly after the bread, jam and coffee arrived. She had lost the blonde wig, revealing her short brown hair, unstuck the glue from her pointy ears, letting them stick out slightly which made her look a little like an elf, and had washed off the old makeup leaving just her clean, beautiful complexion.
“I'm now Jean Durand,” he said, speaking softly and in English. “Who are you?”
“Brunhilda Fischer,” she said, scowling. “Why did I let you pick that name?”
“You were drunk and lost the bet. And you're German is better than your French. Don't worry Katherine, we'll only need it to get a hotel. And speaking of that, how much money do you have?”
“A hundred marks. If we'd had a bit more time I could have gotten some more, but we were in a bit of a rush.”
His eyes widened in surprise. “How did you keep that hidden?”
She raised an eyebrow and smirked. “Don't ask. Hiding it without Vaseline, while you were driving is not something I want to do again.”
Taking a sip of his coffee to keep from laughing, he waited a moment before replying. “I need to remember that trick. But a hundred marks won't get us very far. We'll be able to get a cheap hotel room for a night or two if we're lucky enough to find one on Christmas, but food and anything else is out. We're going to be stuck for at least three or four days.”
Sighing, he looked out at the street which was slowly filling up with people. “I guess we'll need to pick some pockets. Or I can get a Santa Suit, and an elf costume for you, then we'll just need a big bowl and a bell.”
Katherine shook her head, her brilliant blue eyes locked onto his. “We are not stealing or scamming anyone on Christmas, John. What are our other options?”
He wanted to argue. Two or three wallets from some well off people and they'd be comfortable, a few more and they could have an enjoyable little Christmas. But Katherine, despite being one of the best pickpockets he'd ever met, and a wonderful con artist, had some boundaries she refused to break. Her expression made it very clear that this was one of them. His hand started going to a small box sewn into the lining of his coat. He stopped himself, that wasn't an option.
Grinning, he decided to lighten the mood. “OK, no scams or crimes. You know, I still remember the number of that guy who wanted us to do the twin sister video. He's close to Paris, I'm sure we could talk him up to five thousand francs for it.”
“No. We are not fulfilling anyone's kink, and especially not that one. I like my body, but not that much,” she replied, not so casually playing with her butter knife.
“Shame, I always wanted to try that. I guess we'll have to fall back on your old career.”
“We'll need to buy some things first. But yeah, I like that idea. It's been too long since I used my skills for good.”
Seeing Katherine smile made all of John's worries and concerns fade away. This could be an enjoyable little Christmas after all.
“Pick a card, sir, any card,” Katherine said, holding out a pack of cards. “Don't show me what it is, but show everyone else.”
John didn't have time to pay much attention to her act, he had his own little performance going. A cheap folding table, three plastic cups and some fruit was all he needed to get people putting money in his hat.
“Where's the orange?” he asked. “Is it here?”
He flipped up the middle cup revealing an apple. Flipping the cup up into the air, he caught it with his left hand slamming it down. A split second before the cup landed, he replaced the apple with an orange from his sleeve.
“Nope not there. Where oh where could it be?” He made a big show of lifting the cup on the left side, and while everyone watched that, he slipped the apple into the cup on the right.
“So the orange isn't in the left or the middle. It has to be in the right, doesn't it?” He flipped the right cup up, revealing the apple.
“How did that get there?! If the apple is there, it must have traded places with the orange.” He lifted the middle cup again, and was greeted by cheers from the audience, especially the little kids.
Coins and bills were thrown into his hat. People were always generous at Christmas, and performing just inside one of the busiest metro stations in Paris was not only warm, but very lucrative. They'd been doing all kinds of sleight of hand and card tricks for most of the morning, and had emptied their respective hats twice already.
Finishing up his routine, John gave a bow and began packing up. Katherine seeing him closing up, did the same.
“I think we're good for Christmas now. I'm glad we did this, I missed being on stage,” she said, standing on her toes to kiss his cheek.
“Merry Christmas, beautiful,” he said, kissing her back. Holding up his hands, he seemingly pulled fruit from thin air. “Want a snack? I've got an apple, orange or a few grapes.”
She took the apple and took a bite. “We need to do some Christmas shopping.”
“We have money for a decent hotel, food and some sightseeing. Gifts will have to wait for the New Year.”
“It doesn't have to be expensive, there are pawn shops in Paris aren't there? We can look for something nice in one them.”
Speaking quietly in Russian, he said, “Honey, once we get our ID, we can hire Karl Lagerfeld to personally design the most fashionable dress ever for you, and pay for the diamond jewellery to go with it. We don't need to go shopping now.”
“But it won't be Christmas then,” she replied, also in Russian.
“OK. Let's go Christmas shopping, we can always do some more busking if we run short,” he said. He didn't mention that the day after Christmas he would happily go out and pick some pockets so they could stay in relative comfort.
Hopping onto a subway train, they headed towards one of the larger pawn shops in Paris. John had pawned off plenty of items there over the years, nothing too hot, but watches, nice wallets, basic jewellery and other things. It also just so happened to be a good pawn shop as well, if they were going to get something decent for a fair price it would be there.
They held each other in the crowded car, for once not trying to hide who they really were, just two young people in love. Resting his cheek on Katherine's hair, John couldn't recall when he'd been happier. He'd spent years alone, only spending time with marks and a few people he did business with. He'd had fun, learned many things from his acquaintances and partners, and had enjoyable evenings with more women than he could remember, but it had been the life of a child.
With Katherine, he had a partner, a friend, and a lover. She was as skilled as he was in her own areas, helping him cover his weaknesses, watching his back, and giving meaning to his life. It sounded sappy, but he hadn't known what to do with most of the money he'd made before Katherine had shown up.
He didn't drink much, and he wasn't about to fall into the trap of drugs or other vices. They would make him sloppy, and at the level he played at, sloppiness would get him kill. He didn't even need the money to get women. Being able to change his looks, with a bit of money for nice clothes, a good restaurant and some wine, he could get almost any woman he wanted.
Now, he was saving up so he and Katherine could live a good life. They were having fun, seeing the world, stealing money from people who didn't deserve it, and creating a nest egg that would last them a lifetime.
Even with their nearly empty pockets, life was good.
“Oh, John! We need to get this,” Katherine said, from across the store
He'd been looking at a nice little bracelet that was just on the edge of his budget. It was silly worrying about spending less than fifty francs on a pawned bracelet with a pretty little design, when in a few days he could buy Katherine a diamond encrusted bracelet on a whim. But it was Christmas, and if it made his girl happy, he'd get her the best gift he could afford.
Walking over, he saw she was holding an instant Polaroid camera. It wasn't one of the newer ones, but it looked like it was in good shape. He saw there was film for it as well, the price was well out of both of their budgets, but it wouldn't completely break the bank.
“A camera?” he asked.
“We're in Paris for Christmas. It would be criminal if we didn't get some pictures,” Katherine told him.
“Are you sure? If we get it, that's it for presents, and no fancy meals.”
Her big blue eyes and beautiful smile answered his question.
“All right, my little tigress. Merry Christmas,” he said, leaning down to kiss her lips.
She clung to him as he went to pay, beaming all the way. Even with his now empty wallet, he had to admit it was worth it.
“Let's go to the Eiffel Tower, they have an amazing Christmas market at Trocadéro Gardens. We can get something for lunch there. You've never been to Paris at Christmas have you?” he asked.
“Then my lady, I will be your guide. I spent some of my best Christmas's in Paris. And if it's photos you want, it is the greatest city in the world.”
Christmas Market, Trocadéro Gardens
Walking through the Christmas Market, John had to smile as Katherine acted like a child, rushing from one thing to another, taking pictures, and spending their little bit of pocket money. Munching on his sausage, he held her crepe as she took another picture of the Eiffel Tower. They'd have to come back when it got dark, the Christmas lights would be almost as beautiful as she was.
“We have to try that,” Katherine said, dragging him to one of the games that filled the market.
It was a hoop game, three hoops for one franc, if you could get a hoop over a prize you won. He smiled as she handed over the money. She handed one hoop to him and kept the other two for herself.
With a seemingly casual toss he got the hoop over a cheap pair of Christmas earrings in a small box, much to the crowds delight.
Katherine clapped and cheered, as if it was the greatest thing in the world. Then she threw her hoops one after the other, easily winning a blue scarf and a good looking woollen hat. Grabbing their winnings, he handed her the earrings, while she draped the scarf around his neck and put her new hat on.
“This is a wonderful day,” she said, clutching his arm.
“It is. But any day with you is wonderful,” he replied.
“Aw, how do you always know what to say?”
“Practice. Years of practice. You know what we should do before we leave Paris?”
“Go to Versailles. The last time we were there we never got to finish our tour.”
She blushed a deep red. “We're banned from Versailles. And I don't want to get arrested like last time.”
“That was only because you squealed too loudly,” he said innocently. “Anyways that was Jacques and Rachael, not Jean and Brunhilda. We'll be fine.”
“I'll think about it,” she said.
He managed to catch a glimpse of a small smile on her lips and the gleam in her eyes before she looked away. Casually putting his hand in his pocket he made sure the small box was still stitched into the lining. It wasn't quite right yet.
Christmas Market, Notre Dame Cathedral
Katherine looked up from her supper of cheese, waffles, bread and a roasted chicken leg, courtesy of several vendors at the Notre Dame Christmas Market. “You want to go to Midnight Mass?”
“Yes. Why is this so surprising?” John asked.
“You're not Catholic. You're not even religious. The only time I've heard you talk about God or Jesus that wasn't cursing, was when we had to convince Don Manzella you were a priest and I was a nun.”
He grinned. “You looked really good as a nun. We should do that again.”
“I had a pistol against my head!”
“Well we wouldn't do it with Don Manzella of course. That would be stupid. But the outfits, a nice hotel room, you can tell me what a bad boy I've been. But that's for later. You're in Paris at Christmas, not going to midnight mass at Notre Dame would be criminal.”
“You really think it's worth staying up that late?” she asked, her expression full of doubt.
“Yes. Go once and you'll never forget it.”
“All right. I'm glad I have a nice outfit in my bag.”
They were almost done their meal when a young teenager hurried past them. They watched the teen, curious but unwilling to risk getting involved. John shook his head, watching the mistakes the young man made, causing him to stick out and draw more attention to himself. He was sloppy and obviously had no idea how to make a good getaway. He'd most likely get caught and end up getting a slap on the wrist along with a few hours in a cell until his parents could pick him up. Not a good way to spend Christmas eve, but a good lesson.
“John,” Katherine whispered, motioning with her eyes.
Casually looking around, he saw two men running towards them. They were wearing baby blue body armour under their warm coats, with their hands on their pistols, ready to draw. They were grim faced and clearly chasing the teen with very ill intentions.
He watched them with a stunned expression. Just another gawker, surprised at the sight. They didn't even glance his way, too intent on their target.
“We need to help him,” Katherine said, when it was safe.
“Why? We already have enough people out to get us, and we're not exactly in a position to do much.”
She glared at him. “He's just a kid. Who knows what those bastards will do to him if they catch him.”
“What will they do to us, if we get in their way?”
“Are you telling me, Mille, that you're a coward?”
He bowed his head in defeat. She knew exactly what buttons to press to make him do exactly what she wanted. “All right. We can't really plan this out, we try to get close. I'll distract them, you get the kid out of sight, meet up at the metro station and get the hell out of here.”
She nodded, grabbing her bag and heading off at a jog following the MCO agents. He waited a moment, trying to judge where they were going, and took a slightly different route, weaving through the crowd. He grabbed a bottle of beer that wasn't being watched for a second, hiding it in front of him while the former owner shouted in confusion. Slipping between two stalls, he heard some shouting, and saw the teen picking himself up from a tangle of people he'd run into.
John got a closer look, and realized he had been wrong. The teenager was a girl, and now that her hat was knocked off, he could see the large sky blue eye in the middle of her forehead for a moment. Then it closed, before anyone else could get a good look at it, although there was a stir among the onlookers who knew that something wasn't quite right. That made things more interesting.
Taking a big gulp of the beer, he made his nose and cheeks a bright red, and his eyes bloodshot. Then he wandered drunkenly swaying, out into the crowd. taking yet another drink. The MCO agents were sprinting towards the girl, weapons drawn.
In his native rural french accent, he began singing off-key. “Il est des nôtres. Il a bu son verre comme les autres. C'est un ivrogne. Ca se voit rien qu'à sa trogne!”
Somehow he didn't see the MCO agents running. His drunken singing kept him from hearing their shouts to get out of the way. And his drunken dancing just so happened to trip the first agent, sending them both sprawling. His out flung arm caught the leg of the second agent, sending him to the ground as well.
“My beer!” he wailed. His struggle to get up had him grabbing at the MCO agents, keeping them from getting to their feet.
“Moule à merde!” he cursed. “You spilled my beer! Roi des cons! Sent-le-pisse”
“Get off of us, imbecile,” the first agent shouted.
“You owe me a beer. Running around like that, you could kill someone! Why don't you watch where you're going?”
The teenager was gone, and he saw Katherine running off to the side, using the crowd to hide herself. Keeping his angry look, he shouted a few more curses at the MCO agents. They ignored him and ran after their target.
Discretely slipping their wallets into his pocket, he angrily stomped after them, muttering loudly that they owed him a beer.
When the crowd wasn't looking, he began a series of minor changes, keeping his head down. His skin became paler, his nose larger, his hair went from black to dark brown over an entire minute and grew shorter. He became an inch taller and filled out his coat so it almost looked too small on him. The stubble on his chin became a bit thicker. All done slowly enough that someone would have to be watching him as he walked along to really notice. But when he was done, he looked like a different person.
Katherine walked past him, her arm around the waist of the girl. The girl was now wearing Katherine's hat and gloves, holding a bottle of soda, laughing nervously at something her unexpected rescuer was saying. They looked like two sisters enjoying the market.
A little ways away, the MCO agents were cursing, looking all around for the teenager. Going to a stall, John looked over the Christmas ornaments for sale, while watching the agents from the corner of his eye. When they finally headed off in the wrong direction, he bought a pretty silver bell, using the agents cash to pay for it. Whistling happily to himself, he headed to the metro station.
Touching his coat, he breathed a sigh of relief that the box was still in place. It looked like they wouldn't be going to Notre Dame after all, which was going to spoil his plans. But things had taken an interesting turn, and he could wait.
The three people sat near the back of a nice restaurant. John and Katherine were enjoying some expensive Parisian food, courtesy of the MCO, while their new companion was eating so quickly they were afraid she might eat the plates and silverware. The girl still had her hat on, keeping her third eye out of sight, shoulder length messy black hair hid her ears and neck.
They'd bought the girl a new jacket and some clothes, she had been a bit too obvious in her baggy jeans and ragged winter coat. She hadn't seemed happy getting the tight woollen pants, white turtleneck sweater, and form fitting tan winter coat, but they hadn't given her much choice. They were cheap, warm and she fit in with the crowds.
“Have you had enough, Magali?” Katherine asked.
“Yes, thanks, Mary,” the girl said.
They'd decided to use their stage names, Mille and Marionette, Mary for short. They didn't know who the girl was, and if she was caught by the MCO or police, it was best to keep their names, real and the fakes on their ID, out of it.
Katherine beamed, making herself seem like a beautiful angel. She was playing the nice older sister type role, to get Magali talking freely, while he was the calm, quiet protective figure.
“Where are your parents?” Katherine asked.
“Th-they threw me out, when I started to change.” Tears welled up in the girls eyes, she angrily scrubbed them away.
Magali gave a squeak of surprise as the older woman hugged her. “You poor dear,” Katherine said, slipping into English. “No parent should ever do that.”
“You are English?” the girl asked, in heavily accented English.
“American. Mille is French,” Katherine said, once again using French.
The girl slowly accepted the hug, and wrapped her own arms around Katherine. Her tense shoulders slumped down, the nervous energy seemed to leave her. Instead of the scared young girl, she just looked exhausted and defeated.
“Why were those men after you?” John asked.
“I stole some food and I was caught. They saw my eye, the owner panicked and I got away. But a little later those men found me and have been chasing me all evening. Whenever I think I've gotten away, they somehow find me again,” she replied.
“What can you do?”
“When I open my eye I can see in strange colours, I think it's heat. Have you seen Predator with Arnold Schwarzenegger? It's like the alien in the movie. And sometimes everything looks normal, but I can see through things. There are other things, but I don't know what they are, and I can't control it.”
If she was telling the truth her power could be very useful. Having to open the big blue eye to use it however, would make her stick out, which was a problem. At worst, she was a threat to privacy, but the girl was clearly not about to become a dangerous supervillain. Having the MCO hunting her down like this was excessive.
“Well don't worry, you're with us now. We'll take you to our hotel so you can get a good nights sleep. We'll lay low tomorrow and get you some more clothes the next day. Give us a few days and we'll get you somewhere safe,” Katherine said.
“What are you guys? Heroes or something?”
He and Katherine shared a look, trying not to laugh. “No,” he said. “You could say we take nice things from bad people and give them better homes.”
Magali wrinkled her brow in confusion, then her eyes widen and her mouth took the shape of an O. “You're thieves,” she whispered.
“Certainly not,” he said in disgust. “Thieves have no class. It's perfectly easy to break into someones house and take everything they have, any idiot can do that. We're con artists. It takes real skill to tell a person how you're going to take their money and they not only give it to you but thank you for it as well.”
“Enough about us,” Katherine said. “Do you have anyone you can go to? Family? A good friend?”
She shook her head, wiping at her eyes. “No. My friends wouldn't recognize me anymore. And even if I had family that wanted me, my parents would phone the MCO.”
His partner pulled the girl in close. “Well I'm not sure what we can do for you long term, our life isn't exactly what you'd call safe. But at least for now, you can stay with us.”
“Hell yes. No one should be alone at Christmas, and there is no way I'm going to let you stay on the street.”
“Whateley,” John said.
“What was that, Mille?” Katherine asked.
“Whateley. It's a school for people like Magali and I, somewhere in America. I've met a few people who went there. They say the school doesn't ask many questions, and will look after runaways and abandoned teens until they graduate.”
“America,” Magali said, looking very nervous.
“It's not like the movies or the news,” Katherine said. “I'm American, and it can be good and bad, but as long as you keep an open mind about things, it will definitely be interesting. And if Whataley will accept you, it will give you a safe place to live and learn until you're old enough to look after yourself.”
“But how will I get there?”
John raised his hand and waved it towards his chest. “In honour of the season, Mary and I will make sure you get there safely. We will also cover any fees for you to enter Whateley if it lives up to its reputation.”
“You would do that for me? But you just met me.”
Katherine was beaming at him, her smile more beautiful than ever. Feeling like a hero, he said, “Don't worry. We have the money, and we need to do our good deed for the year. It will just take a few days while we wait for some things to go through.”
The girl began to cry. Sobbing, she said, “I'm sorry, I never used to cry. It's just... I... I didn't expect this.”
“Don't apologize sweety,” Katherine said, hugging her once again. “We both know what it's like to end up on the street with no idea what the hell we were going to do next. It can be a bit overwhelming when you finally get help. Now lets do one last thing, then we'll get you to our hotel, so you can get a good nights sleep. You'll feel better in the morning.”
Reaching into her backpack, Katherine handed John the camera. Taking a tissue, she wiped away Magali's tears. “I want a picture to remember our first meal together,” she explained.
They both smiled for the camera while John took a picture. Sitting down, he waited for the photo to develop, and looked around for the waiter to pay for the meal. He saw two familiar figures walking past the window.
“Mary, get Magali tidied up. We might be meeting some friends to discuss Shakespeare soon,” he said. Shoving the camera into her bag, he used his eyes to point out the MCO agents.
She nodded, understanding at once. Grabbing the girls arm, she got to her feet and headed for the lady's room, with the confused teen in tow. “Come on, lets fix up your hair.”
“How did you find us?” he whispered to himself, watching the MCO agents walk into the restaurant clearly looking for someone.
There was no way they could have tracked them down. They'd taken several different subway trains, making sure Magali's unusual eye was covered the entire time. The girl didn't look like the street kid they'd seen earlier, and they had no reason to suspect she was in a group. From the corner of his eye he saw them talking to a waiter, who pointed them in his direction.
“Sir, have you seen a girl with shoulder length brown hair? She is fourteen years old, wearing a hat that covers her forehead, about one-hundred-sixty-four centimetres in height,” the taller MCO agent asked, holding his hand up to show the girls height.
“Sorry no. Why do you ask?”
“We're looking for a dangerous mutant. She robbed a store earlier today and we believe she came to this restaurant.”
He furrowed his brow, as if he was thinking. Finally he shook his head. “I haven't seen anyone like that.”
“The waiter said you were dining with two women, one of them a teenager who didn't take her hat off.”
“My fiance, Julia, and her sister, Anna,” he said, keeping his voice calm and natural. “Anna was feeling a bit chilled, too much excitement and time outside. They left a few minutes ago to meet their parents and get the poor girl to bed.”
The shorter one with a moustache that would make a porn star jealous grabbed him by the shoulder. “Why didn't you go with them?”
“I wasn't done my dessert.”
“I think you're lying to us. Show us your ID.”
“You're not the police, you can go straight to hell,” he said.
The tall one leaned on the table, getting into his face. “We are in pursuit of a dangerous mutant, you need to do what we say unless you want to be an accomplice to the mutants crimes.”
Getting to his feet, he made his skin bright red, as if he was furious. “You think I'd help one of those genetic defects!” he shouted. “How dare you! I have nothing, and want nothing to do with any mutant. They're- They're...”
His skin went deathly pale, he started to waver back and forth, speaking gibberish. He crashed to the floor, forcing himself to not wince or brace himself as he landed with a painful bounce. Limply he laid there not moving, and carefully thickened the skin on his neck to the limits of his ability.
“What happened?” the short MCO agent demanded.
The other one knelt down, his fingers went to John's neck, checking for a pulse. “He has a pulse, it's very weak. We need an ambulance.”
“He's faking it. Giving the mutant time to get away.”
“How did he fake this?” the agent asked.
John felt cold fingers loosening the buttons on his collar. This was not good. He was giving Katherine and Magali plenty of time to get away, but now he had to worry about how he would make his own escape.
Someone said an ambulance was on its way. That wouldn't do at all, they'd check his ID and he didn't have any backups handy. It would also limit his options, his little charade wouldn't work on a paramedic.
“I'm going to look for the mutant and his partner. You stay here and make sure he doesn't miraculously recover,” the short agent said.
Listening to the agent walk away, John counted to twenty then gave a soft moan. “Medicine.”
“What?” the watching agent said. From his voice he was kneeling right beside him.
“Medicine. Inside... pocket.” He opened his eyes a little, watching the agent.
The agent leaned over him, reaching into his coat. John thickened his skull, giving himself an almost neanderthal like brow. Grabbing the unsuspecting mans head, he rammed his forehead into the agents.
Painful lights flashed in his eyes, and his head ached. The agent had it worse. Unprepared for the blow the agent fell stunned and possibly unconscious to the ground.
Leaping to his feet, ignoring the cries around him, John grabbed his coat and ran into the kitchen. The short agent saw him running, and yelled at him to stop, racing to follow.
“Get out of my kitchen!” a chef roared.
John ignored him, pushing an unfortunate waiter to the ground and headed for the back exit. The MCO agent cursed, yelling at the waiter to get out of his way, giving John time to put more distance between them. Coming out on a small back street, he made himself lighter and his legs longer, running as fast as he could. He made it to a side street, turned and headed for the crowded main street, drastically changing his appearance as he ran.
Half a minute later when the MCO agent came to the main street, he didn't give a second glance to the short Black man tying his shoe in a doorway.
John smirked as the agent cursed and began searching the crowd for a man who didn't exist. It was time to go, he had to make sure Katherine and the girl were OK.
Shakespeare and Company English Book Store
Near Notre Dame Cathedral
Walking past the large bookstore, John kept an eye out for his partner. One problem with his shape changing and her disguises, was that trying to find each other after getting separated could be difficult. So they'd come up with signs and motions that would help them.
He was casually flipping a coin, not doing anything fancy with it, just making sure it was easy to see as he walked along the well lit street. A blonde saw him coming and pushed the bangs out of her eyes with her left hand, flashing a ring on her little finger.
Catching the coin he walked over to Katherine who was talking to Magali. They had gone all out with the supplies they had, to change their appearance. Katherine was all dolled up, with dark glittering makeup around her eyes and on her cheekbones, and dark red lipstick, making them stand out. The blonde wig was thick, curly and framed her face, hiding her cute, but distinctive ears.
Magali's hollow cheeks were a healthy pink, and her cheekbones had been darkened to soften their appearance. Her hair was hidden under a light brown wig that wasn't very long, but had enormous bangs that almost concealed her eyes. A beauty mark had been added her cheek, just large enough to attract the eye.
“Mille, you're a bit late,” Katherine said, rushing over to hug him.
“Just had some trouble with a last minute client, nothing too serious. But I had to run to get here,” he replied, bending down a little to embrace her.
“She's Maddy, my cousin. No one followed us. No bugs on her clothes,” she whispered in his ear.
“Good work,” he whispered back, kissing her cheek.
Letting her go, he turned to Magali, giving her a quick air kiss to both cheeks. “I hope your cousin has been showing you a good time, Maddy.”
“She's been great. But it's a little scary, I'm really not used to this,” she replied.
“Don't worry, you'll get used to it. Life in the big city is always a little surprising at first. Now that we're all together, lets enjoy the rest of the night,” he said.
They walked along the streets for a while, admiring the decorations, making casual conversation, doubling back, taken sudden detours, and slowly making their way to the Notre Dame Christmas Market. He bought them all some warm mulled wine and a bag of chestnuts to munch on, as they window shopped the different vendors, took pictures of Notre Dame and other sights, and did everything possible to look normal.
Magali was nervous at first, looking around to see if they were being followed, jumping at unexpected noises, and keeping her head down. But with a bit of wine, and seeing how relaxed he and Katherine were, she started to calm down, and even began to smile.
It was well after ten when Mille saw that the girl was falling asleep on her feet.
“I think we're in the clear, let's get back to the hotel,” he said, half carrying Magali.
“Do you think they'll be able to find us there?” Katherine asked.
“No idea. Did you dump her old clothes?”
She nodded. “First thing after we got out of the restaurant. Even her underwear.”
“All right, we'll get up early and check out of the hotel. Keep moving all day tomorrow, and pick a hotel at random for the night.”
“What if we leave Paris? We'd be safe then.”
“I'm having the ID's sent to a contact here. I want to be able to get them the day they're delivered. And we don't have the money to travel far.”
She cursed. “This wasn't how I expected to spend Christmas.”
“At least it's not boring,” he said with a grin.
“True.” She grimaced as they looked for a cab. “I didn't think my life would turn out like this when I agreed to be that assholes assistant. Be on stage with an up and coming magician. Travel the world. Become famous. Get harassed daily, and dumped penniless on my ass in London.”
“And now look at you. Having adventures with a handsome devil, making good money, saving damsels in distress. And all it took was you picking my pocket.”
Laughing she grabbed his arm. “It has been fun. And it's a good thing you decided to become my partner, you're sleight of hand sucked.”
“It was good enough to realize what you did, and I was able to find you. Eventually.”
“You were persistent.”
“That ID cost a lot of money. I almost cried when you told me you threw it away.”
“I didn't need it. I just needed enough money to buy a meal.”
“Starting a life of crime to eat British food. I don't think I've ever heard a sadder story.”
A taxi came to a stop and it was an expensive ride to the hotel. They stopped half a block away, in front of another hotel, just in case anyone asked the driver about them. As they made their way to their room, he and Katherine kept a careful eye out for anyone who might be following them.
Inside their room, he made sure to lock the door, used the chain for a bit more protection, and put a threadbare easy chair in front of the door. Katherine saw what he was doing and shook her head in disbelief, but didn't stop him.
Magali woke up enough to take off her pants and slipped into the single queen size bed. Katherine put on a long t-shirt, gave him a long kiss, and joined her.
John went to the bathroom, had a long hot shower. He'd had one when they checked in earlier that day, but after everything that happened, he smelled of stale beer and he needed it to relax. After drying himself off, he shifted to a twelve year old boy and put on one of his now oversized shirts. Grabbing a spare blanket, he sat in the easy chair blocking the door and fell asleep almost immediately.
Sunday, December 25th
Knocking woke John up in the morning. It wasn't the gentle rapping of a hotel worker, it was hard enough to shake the door and his chair.
“Open up, MCO!”
He was up and shifting instantly. This wasn't a simple shift like the other day, he turned himself into a tall, statuesque Black woman with a shaved head. “Just a minute!”
Katherine was up and moving, putting a hand over Magali's mouth and whispering in her ear. A moment later they both silently went to the bathroom and the shower turned on.
Moving the chair out of the way, John opened the door a little, keeping the chain in place.
The MCO agents, the same ones from yesterday, clearly hadn't expected to see a Black woman, wearing a t-shirt that had clearly been slept in. The tall agent, held up a badge. “Ma'am I'm agent Monet, this is my partner agent Balland. We're with the MCO, can you open the door?”
“One minute,” he said, closing the door on them. A quick look around showed that nothing incriminating was in sight. Taking the chain off the door, he opened it up but stood right in the door, so they couldn't just walk in. “What do you want?” he asked, giving himself an accent that could have come straight from the Ivory Coast.
The short one, Balland, looked down and saw that John's t-shirt barely covered his pubic area and turned a bright red. Monet, who had a nasty bruise on his forehead, looked a little flustered.
“We're looking for three mutant fugitives. A man, woman and a teen girl,” the Monet said.
John smirked. “No man is in here. Last night it was just us girls.”
“The hotel registry says that a man and woman checked into this room.”
“They got it wrong. It's just me and my friend.” The way he said friend left nothing to the imagination. “She's in the shower now, do you want to see her?”
“We can wait for her to get out and dressed.”
“No. I don't want you standing around wasting my time. You want to see who is here? Come with me.” Turning away from them he walked to the small bathroom and opened the door. “Mon p’tit cul, we have company”
Katherine half opened the shower curtain, exposing herself in all her glory. “Are they cute?”
“No, they've got dicks.”
The two agents took a quick look around the room, making sure no one could be hiding. The Monet took a look past John and saw Katherine. His face turned beet red and he looked away a second later.
Blowing a kiss to her, John closed the door. “Satisfied?”
“Ah yes,” the agent said. “We must have the wrong room. Sorry about that.”
“No harm done. Now go away, I need a shower.”
The agents left, and John felt an immense amount of relief. That had been too close. Katherine came out of the bathroom, drying herself off. “I feel dirty.”
“Sorry about that. But you did your part perfectly. Is the girl OK?”
“She's scared, she almost freaked out in the shower, but I as able to keep her quiet. We really need to figure out how they're tracking us.”
“It's not a tracking device. The only thing we have that could be a tracker is their ID, we dumped everything else. And if they were tracking that, they'd know it was in this room, and would have torn the place apart.
“Maybe. If they have something of Magali's, they might be able to spy on her a bit. But I don't know enough about magic to be certain.”
“Do you know anyone in Paris who could help?”
“Not on Christmas day, not without spending a lot of money we don't have. Even criminals like to take the holiday off.”
Putting on clean clothes, Katherine swore. “So we keep moving, and maybe don't bother with a hotel tonight.”
“I could make them no longer a problem,” he said quietly.
“No. I know we haven't always done things cleanly, and you've had to do... that, before. But those were for people who were about to kill us and we had no other choice. We don't have guns pointed at our heads, we're not about to be tortured and thrown in a shallow grave, or executed to make a statement. We don't step over that line without a damn good reason,” she said, her normally kind and friendly eyes hard.
“OK. We'll keep on the move, and make sure it doesn't come to that. I'll keep my hands clean for you,” he promised.
She leaned in to give him a kiss. “Thank you. Now change back to a man and put on some clothes before Magali gets out of the shower. We need to get out in case they come back to double check things, or the staff decides to see what's going on.”
John skipped alongside Katherine holding her hand, eating some chocolate and humming to himself, his long brown hair done up in a pretty ponytail, wearing a brand new white dress and red stockings. He looked like a cute eleven year old girl enjoying a trip to the museum. Magali was on the other side of Katherine, looking a bit bored, and keeping her head down, the long bangs of her wig covered her third eye. Katherine was pointing out the different attractions, playing the role of a mother to a T. Her makeup and somewhat dowdy clothes, made her look to be in her mid to late thirties.
The only thing that could be considered out of place was that they were all wearing backpacks. They couldn't get rid of those, since they had what little was left of their limited funds, spare clothes and supplies.
Looking around the museum, which had been a hotel back in the 19th century and was now a museum showing Paris throughout the ages, they were doing their best to look like an out of town family. The MCO was looking for a teen girl, and two fairly young adults. They couldn't do much to make Magali look a different age, but turning themselves into a single mother visiting Paris with her two daughters, that was child's play. Since John didn't often have a chance to act like a child, he had taken to the role with glee, begging 'mom' for some ice cream and candy.
Magali kept giving him strange looks. He wasn't sure whether it was because of his shifting, his turning into a girl, or that he was being so childlike, not that it mattered. He had a role to play and he'd play it. When it came to magic or a con, the trick was always in the misdirection. They needed people to not really see the teenager, so make them see the cute young girl instead.
Entering another room, John nearly groaned in frustration. The MCO agents Monet and Balland were walking through the exhibit, clearly looking for someone.
“Maman! Maddy! Look at this!” he shouted, dragging Katherine towards a large alcove. The walls panels had vibrant images of swans, chickens and game birds, that were beautifully painted. “The birds almost look real. I want to paint like that!”
Katherine smiled patting his shoulder. “If you practice hard you'll be able to, Millicent.”
“I'm going to draw a beautiful picture as soon as we get back to our hotel. It will be as beautiful as those!”
From the corner of his eye, he saw agent Balland smile. The agents left the room without bothering them, or even asking any questions. Which was a good thing, Magali was trying a bit too hard to look unimportant.
“Maman, I need to go to the bathroom,” he said. That was their code for splitting up so he could follow the MCO agents.
“OK, you know where it is. Maddy and I will keep going,” Katherine said.
Running to the public bathroom, he checked to make sure no one was around, and went into the men's room. Entering a stall he quickly stripped out of his clothes, shifted into an adult male, with a large beard and moustache, and got dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt.
Stepping out he went looking for the two agents. He soon found them, they were looking more and more frustrated, looking closely at anyone they saw.
“Excuse me,” he said in an American mid-west accent he'd been practising with Katherine. “Um, how do I say this. Po-ur la momento?”
They looked at him very confused.
Pointing at his wrist, he asked again. “Poor ah momento? Do you have the time?”
“Oh, you want the time,” Agent Monet said in English with a thick accent. “It is eleven ten o'clock.”
“One moment, please. Have you seen a girl, fourteen years old, dark brown hair. Has her head covered. We are MCO, we are looking for her,” Agent Monet said, showing his ID.
“Sorry. I didn't see the girl. Is she dangerous?”
“Very dangerous. A criminal. She hurt her parents.”
“If I see her I will get you.”
He let the agents get a little ways away, pretending to admire the statue that was being displayed. Once they'd forgotten about the American tourist, he meandered towards them, seemingly keeping his attention on the art.
“Where is she?” Agent Balland asked. He sounded angry, making a fist and hitting his leg.
“I don't know. La Prophétesse said they'd be here,” Agent Monet replied.
“This is the second time she's been wrong. Can we really trust her?”
“She was right yesterday. The couple who helped her must be doing something to throw her off.”
“So what do we do about it? We can't exactly tell the police to look for a woman we haven't seen or gotten a decent description of, and a plain looking man who can vanish into thin air. Especially at Christmas, there are simply too many people.”
“I'm going to phone the office. They'll call her and we can try to get a better idea of where they are,” Monet said, heading for the entrance.
That was all John needed to know. Heading back to the bathroom, he shifted back into the little girl, got dressed and exited, intent on finding Katherine and getting out of there.
“Did you go into the wrong room little girl?” Agent Balland asked.
Silently cursing, he made himself blush. “Yes. I really had to go.”
The agent smiled. “Well be more careful. You don't want to see anything you shouldn't in there.”
Nodding, he hurried away, head down, her shoulders up around her ears, as if trying to hide.
He heard the agent enter the bathroom, the heavy door thudded as it closed. A moment later it slammed open.
He took off running.
“MONET! Get the girl! She's a shifter!” Balland shouted.
Tearing through the museum as fast as his short legs could go, John wished he was anywhere else. The small tights and dress wouldn't let him shift to a larger size better suited for running. There weren't enough people in the museum to get lost in. And he didn't know the layout of the museum well enough to hide. If he didn't do something, the much faster agent was going to catch him.
“HELP! RAPIST!” he screeched at the top of his lungs.
He kept screaming, putting as much fear into his voice as he could. Hopefully Katherine would hear him screaming and get out of the museum before she and Magali were spotted. He didn't like being the bait, but he could handle it a lot better than his partner could, and if Magali was caught it was game over.
The screaming was drawing attention at least. The few people he passed didn't look very helpful, too fearful or uninterested, but one person caught his eye. A man who was with his family, and had a young girl. The guy did not look happy, neither did his wife.
“Help!” John shouted again, heading straight for them. Sliding to a stop, he got behind the man and clutched the woman around the stomach, crying as hard as he could.
Pointing at Balland, he started sobbing,making himself sound panicked and on the verge of a breakdown. “In the- in the bathroom- came in- grabbed me! Put his hand up my dress!”
“I'm with the MCO. That man is not a little girl,” Balland said, too focused on John to think about what he was saying.
“Il va se faire enculer en prison, ce pedophile!” the father said, grabbing Balland.
A hand grabbed John's shoulder, digging into his flesh. Looking up he saw agent Monet looming over him. Even worse the agent was reaching for his gun. Pushing his power to its limit, he shrank just a little more. It felt like his skin was crushing him and about to split open, but he was small enough to slip out of the hold.
With his newfound freedom, John grabbed Monet's arm and sank his teeth deep into the mans hand. Blood filled his mouth. Monet bellowed in pain. Then John was slammed into the wall hard enough to stun him.
The woman started screaming, hitting the agent with her purse, calling him every name in the book. The daughter was wailing in fear at seeing her parents fighting, and security was coming fast.
Shaking his head, John staggered to his feet and ran for it. He wasn't a fighter, running away was the smartest thing he could do. All he needed now was to find a private place to change and he'd be able to walk away.
Rubbing his badly bruised shoulder, John wished he could relax in a nice hot tub with a big glass of something alcoholic and a bottle of pain killers. The bruise wasn't the main source of pain, his entire body felt like it had been put through a compactor and squeezed. He'd pushed his limits going so small to get away from the MCO, and now he was paying the price.
“I'm sorry,” Magali said.
“About what?” John asked.
She pointed at his shoulder. “You got hurt because you're helping me.”
“This is nothing. You should learn now that you're going to get hurt sometimes. No one wants to feel pain, unless they're crazy. But you need to accept that it happens and not fear it. It's how you know you're still alive and breathing.”
Katherine took a quick look around. “Just when is your friend getting here?”
“Anytime now. He's probably been here for twenty minutes already, but is just being cautious. And Kévin is not my friend. He's a person I've done business with in the past.”
“Do you have any friends?” Katherine asked.
“I've got you,” he replied.
He chuckled as she rolled her eyes, then a familiar face caught his eye. Kévin, dressed casually for Christmas, appeared from behind a large group and took a seat.
“Mille, this had better be good. My wife is furious that I'm working today,” the older man said.
“Like I said on the phone, I'll owe you a favour. And I thought you were getting a divorce.”
“So did I,” Kévin said wistfully. “Cayenne had a different idea, and since I didn't want to be turned into ash, I changed my mind. Now lets get this over with quickly before you have even more people after your head.”
“We seem to be very popular this Christmas,” Katherine said.
“You are, Marionette. If I were you, I'd go on a long vacation on another continent, Word is Gruber has put out a large reward for both of you, preferably alive, but dead is acceptable. The Stasi are also stretching out their feelers. A person on their payroll has asked me about you.”
John leaned in close. “And you told them?”
“Nothing. I owe you my life, so I simply said I couldn't tell them anything. They accepted it. The MCO on the other hand are not so friendly, and my contacts have told me they are very unhappy with you.”
“Do they know who we are?”
His friend shook his head. “No. They suspect you, but so far, you are only a rumour to them. If you're not careful that will change.”
He'd been afraid of that. Pointing at Magali, he asked, “Do you know why the MCO wants her so badly?”
“She hasn't told you?”
Magali turned white, ducking her head down. Katherine put an arm protectively around the girls shoulders, which also kept her from bolting.
“Not in any detail.”
“That's the son of the former Paris MCO Director."
Looking at the girl, he couldn't see anything masculine about her. He'd seen her in her underwear the night before and she'd looked all girl to him. Going by the scared and humiliated look on her face, Kévin was telling the truth.
“My contact was very certain of it. Isn't that right Marque?” Kévin asked.
The girl nodded, keeping her eyes on the table. She hunched down even more, her cheeks turning a brilliant red. “Yes,” she said in a whisper. “I ran away when I heard they were going to take me somewhere to examine. I was changing so fast I was able to hide and live on the street. But somehow they found me a few days ago and they won't leave me alone.”
John leaned back in his chair, blowing air noisily out of his mouth. That was interesting news. “Well, that explains why they've been so intent on hunting us down. What can you tell me of La Prophétesse?”
“Not much. If I knew anything useful, I'd have already told certain parties that want to make an example of her. She appeared in the last month or two, helping the MCO. She only talks to them by phone, and she is only contacted from their office using an unlisted and apparently untraceable number. One person tried to track her down, he was found a week later dead in the Seine, with a bullet in the back of his head.”
“Thank you for the help, we should get going. Tell Cayenne good luck on her next attempt to take over France. And I'm sorry for bothering you on Christmas, I'll make sure to have something nice for her when we meet next time.”
“I'll tell her you said hi,” Kévin said, laughing. Then he got serious again. “If you can, get out of the city as soon as possible. I've heard that the MCO has now made finding you and her their top priority. Take care of yourselves.”
With that they went in opposite directions, trying to look casual, while watching out for the MCO.
“He's married to Cayenne?” Magali asked.
“Yes. He complains about her a lot, but they love each other.”
“Is she the supervillain Cayenne.”
He nodded. “She is. He's a supervillain as well. Technically I am too.”
“Let's worry about that later,” Katherine said. “Magali, why didn't you tell us the truth?”
“It's- What if you woke up and everything you knew about yourself and your family changed. You weren't you anymore and you're entire life was shattered so badly it could never be fixed. How would you feel?” the girl asked.
Pursing her lips, Katherine was silent for a long moment. “I don't know.”
“I was alone and afraid. And no one would help me until you two appeared, and I didn't know what you would do if you knew who I was really was. And I didn't want you to think I was disgusting or evil, and abandon me, or worse hand me over to them.” Tears began streaming down the girls face. She angrily wiped them away.
“Don't worry,” Katherine said, hugging her. “We're still going to help you. We gave you our word, we'll keep it.”
“Yes, we will,” John said, patting her on the shoulder. “I know what it's like living alone on the street. I ran away from home willingly when I was twelve, but it still wasn't easy. So now we just have to figure out how to avoid the MCO.”
“We can't take a train or a bus out of Paris,” Katherine said. “They'll be watching those. Hell they'll probably know exactly which one we'll be taking thanks to their psychic.”
“Stealing a car probably won't work either. They'll know the make, model and licence plate before we're out of the city.”
“We should be fairly safe as long as we stay near a crowd and keep moving. But tonight is going to be a problem. We have to sleep sometime, and three people walking around at night is pretty obvious. How long until we get our ID?”
“Probably the 27th, maybe the 28th, Christmas is playing hell with shipping.”
“What do you need ID for?” Magali asked.
“So we can access our bank accounts, We lost most of our ID's, all our checks, and cash the other day. Now we're waiting for our new ones to show up.” John kept his voice low, but otherwise tried to act like a normal man enjoying the day with his family, smiling pleasantly completely at ease with the world.
A car parked on the side of the road. Four men stepped out, trying to look casual. The way they watched the street, and the one keeping his hand close to his hip ready to grab the gun that was just visible under his coat gave them away.
“Smile,” he said.
Katherine, who still looked like a middle age mother, smiled so naturally it almost fooled John. Magali tried, but it looked force. Putting his arm around her shoulder, he tried to look like a doting father, his greying temples helped with that.
“Maddy,” he said in English, while using her assumed name, “I know you've found Paris boring so far. What would you like to do this afternoon? Anything you want.”
“I don't know,” she replied in fairly good English, keeping her voice bored and a bit sullen. She and Katherine had been practising that phrase all morning until she could say it like a native.
“How about the Christmas market at the Eiffel Tower?” Katherine said. “They have a Ferris wheel and other rides. You love the Ferris wheel.”
The MCO agents walked right past them.
Turning to look at Katherine, so he could watch the agents and make sure they were in the clear, he asked, “Which way to the subway again, dear?”
“That way,” she said, pointing down the street. “I swear you'd get lost in a paper bag sometimes.”
One of the agents stopped and turned to look at them. He said something to the others and came their way. John ignored him, guiding Magali with his arm, so she wouldn't give them away, and they walked down the street completely oblivious to the man.
“Excuse me,” the agent said in French.
They stopped and looked at the agent. John took a step forward, making sure the attention would be on him. “Sorry, do you speak English?” he asked.
The agent smiled, and replied in very good English, “Yes I do. You're Americans?”
“Yes we are, from Chicago. What can I do for you?”
“I'm an investigator for the gendarme, the Paris police. I'm looking for three people, a man, a woman and a teenage girl. What are your names?”
“Well isn't that a kick in the nuts,” John said, chuckling like it was a funny coincidence. “I'm Miles Mccollough, this is my wife Mary, and our daughter Maddy. We've only been here for three days, decided to see the world and get a bit of culture. Paris is a beautiful city.”
“Yes it is, thank you. Where are you staying?”
“We're at the Hilton Paris Opera hotel, on Saint-Lazare. Wonderful place, have you been there?”
“No, I haven't. It's a little out of my price.”
Katherine spoke up, before the agent could ask another question. “These people, are they in trouble?”
“They are suspects in a crime. I can't go into much more detail. I just have one more thing to ask and then you can go.”
“Of course, of course,” John said.
“Can I see your daughters forehead?”
John started laughing. He saw that the other agents were quite a ways down the street, questioning other people. “You want to see her forehead. Why?”
“I'm sorry, but the teenage suspect has a mark on her forehead.”
Moving so he was standing to the side of the agent, he looked at Magali. “Let's get this over with, sweety,” he said.
Clearly struggling to not shake or run away, Magali reached up to take off her hat, drawing the attention of the agent. John reached out, snatching the gun from the agents holster. In one smooth motion he moved behind the man, grabbing him by the shoulder, jamming the barrel into his back.
“Not a word,” he hissed in French. “We haven't drawn any real attention yet, let's keep it that way. You don't want to die or anyone getting hurt, I don't either.”
Katherine grabbed Magali and hurried down the street, taking the first corner they came to.
“What are you going to do?” the agent asked, keeping his hands down and away from his sides.
“You and I are going to have a little talk, while the ladies go shopping. It will all be nice and friendly and in a few minutes we'll each go our separate ways. Now, I'm going to let you go and we're going to cross the street. We'll keep walking, away from the ladies and your friends. No sudden movements, nothing stupid. I want you to go home to your family tonight, but if you want to play, we play for keeps, do you understand?”
He moved to stand beside and a hair behind the agent, putting his hand and the gun into his jacket, still pointing at the man. “Very good. Let's start walking.”
“Do you know who the girl is?”
“The former Paris MCO directors son. That could be very embarrassing for you if that got out.”
“She's a murderer.”
“No one's perfect. Who did she murder?”
“An MCO agent, Jules Maigret. Broke his spine with that eye of hers.”
“Was this before or after the MCO tried to take her away?”
“Before. She's the directors child, do you think we'd make her disappear? That he'd allow that?”
He shrugged. “I don't deal with the MCO, so I really don't know. But I understand what it's like to be on the wrong side of the law.”
“Yes, you do Mille. When we realized you were a shifter we did some very quick research. You have quite a record.”
“I do my best.”
“Did you murder those five people in Nice?”
“If I did, they deserved it. They should have known better than to hurt little boys and girls.”
The agent laughed. “So you think you're some kind of vigilante. Doing bad things for the greater good?”
“Hardly. I want money and a good time. If I do a bit of good occasionally, I'll take it as a bonus.” They were well away from the girls now, it was time to end this. Bringing the gun up he hit the agent as hard as he could in the back of the head.
The man crumpled to the ground, moaning and holding his head. Putting the pistol in his pocket, John took off running down the street, ignoring the alarmed looks he was getting from the pedestrians. The agent would survive with only a headache, and by the time he recovered John would be far away
Now the only question was, how did they keep the MCO away from them.
Even on Christmas day the Tour Maine-Montparnasse was fairly busy. The tallest skyscraper in Paris, many people wanted to go all the way to the top to watch the sunset. It was also the only place in Paris where you couldn't see the Tour Maine-Montparnasse, which was widely declared to be the ugliest building in Paris.
John stepped out of the elevator and saw Katherine and Magali almost immediately. Katherine had worked her magic and now looked like a tanned young woman, while her partner in crime looked to be almost eighteen and was equally tanned.
Waving to them, he walked over and making sure no one was too close, decided to see if the agent he'd spoken to earlier had been lying. “So Magali, what did it feel like murdering an MCO agent?”
The teenager practically jumped in shock and confusion. “What?!”
Katherine looked almost as shocked. “What are you talking about?”
“Well that answers that,” he said, smiling at the girl. “Sorry, the agent and I had a little talk and he spun an interesting tale. Needed to see if it was true or not. You passed with flying colours.”
“They said I'm a murderer?” she whispered.
“That's what the man told me. Now I want to help you even more. Unfortunately I have no good ideas.”
“I've been thinking about that, while you were playing with your friends. I've got an idea,” Katherine said, smiling viciously.
Intrigued, John leaned against the window and listened to her plan. By the time she was done telling her idea, he was grinning just as nastily.
Latin Quarter, Paris
Morning, December 26th
John sat at an outside table enjoying a warm coffee on the cool morning. He desperately needed the caffiene after the mostly sleepless night, he still made sure to look his best, appearance was everything. Katherine and Magali were close by, wandering in and out of stores, making sure to constantly be on the move. He'd prefer having them hiding in some backroom out of site, but they couldn't know when the MCO would have their pet psychic spy on them. It was safer for them to stay in the crowds.
He'd been watching the street for over an hour when his two favourite people in the world appeared.
“Agents Monet, Balland!” he shouted. “I've been waiting all morning for you. Come here, get a coffee and sit down. We have so much to discuss.”
The two men looked at him, then at each other. They weren't used to their prey inviting them over for coffee. They walked over, looking around for any potential surprises, when they were satisfied everything was on the up and up, they sat down.
“Sorry about your hand, Monet,” John said, motioning at the large bandage that covered the side of the mans hand.
“Why do you seem so happy to see us?” Balland demanded, his moustache twitching with anger.
“My partner, Marionette, she has a hobby. She loves taking photos. She even insisted we get an instant camera for Christmas, despite us being down on our luck. She's quite good at it too. And did you know, Marque is pretty talented as well.”
“What are you talking about?” Monet asked. From the look in his eyes, he knew what was coming.
“Last night we decided to take some photos. And while they're quite good, I don't think they put you in a very flattering light.” He slid a large brown envelope across the table.
Balland hesitated before opening it and taking out the photos. His face turned red at the sight of the first one.
John really couldn't blame him. The photo showed Balland in bed only wearing underwear, leaning over a similarly clad girl who was clearly a young teenager. He dropped the photos, pulled out his gun and pointed it at John.
The people around them shouted in surprise and fear, hastily getting to their feet and running inside or down the street.
“I wouldn't do that if I were you,” John said, grinning like the Cheshire cat. “Marionette and one of my Parisian friends have a lot more pictures. And every single MCO agent I have seen in person or in a picture is in one or more of them. Agent Monet, you'll really like the next one.”
Monet took the photos and looked at the next one. It showed him getting a thick wad of cash from a woman heavily wrapped up in clothes, with a bit of purple skin showing at the wrist and around her sunglasses. “What do you want?” the agent asked.
“First, Balland put the gun down. Unless you want to explain all of this to the gendarme.”
Balland lowered the gun. He was shaking with rage, but was still capable of thinking.
“Thank you. Now I still have some legal business in Paris. It will be finished in another one to three days. If I have to keep on the move, it will take longer and someone is going to get hurt. So here's the deal. You stop looking for Marque, Marionette and I, and we disappear. You will not hear of us or our actions while we're in Paris. As soon as my business is done, we will leave France. Once we're in a safe country, all of our photos will be burned.” Leaning back in his chair, completely relaxed, he waited for their response, knowing exactly what it will be.
“You're blackmailing the MCO,” Monet said.
He nodded happily. “Yes I am. It's either that or we start playing for keeps, and neither of us wants to do that.”
“How can we trust you? You're a thief and a murderer.”
“I'm a con artist, who does some theft on the side. I value my anonymity. I slip in, trick some people, maybe pick a pocket or two on the way out and disappear. If I release these photos, I'll be declaring war on the MCO. What do I gain from that?” he asked.
Seeing their hesitation, he pushed a little more. “You can shoot me right now, the photos get released, the MCO takes a hit and you and all your friends end up in prison or unemployable. I can release the photos in three days, and then I'm enemy number one for every MCO agent in Europe and maybe America. Either way, we both lose. You forget Mille, Marionette and Marque exist for one week, and everyone walks away to play again another day.”
Monet stood up, put the photos back in the envelope and grabbed his partner by the arm. “If you commit any crimes in Paris, or are still here in one week, we will hunt you down like a dog.”
“I'm glad we could come to an understanding. Have a good day gentlemen.” Tipping his hat to the men, he hurried away. The police would likely be arriving soon and he had no desire to be anywhere near the area when they arrived.
December 31st, 1988
Sipping his wine, John was truly happy with his life. They were at a great restaurant, fat and happy after a meal fit for a king. He was dressed to the nines in an expensive suit, drinking wine that cost ten thousand dollars a bottle, staring into the eyes of the most beautiful woman in the world. Katherine was wearing a fantastic dress that would normally be seen at the Oscars, with a fortune of jewels and white gold as accessories.
Magali was there as well, sipping her drink, juice not wine since they were in America. She was dressed more plainly, entirely by her own choice. Her pants and shirt had still cost several hundred dollars, and she had bags of clothes waiting for her in their hotel suite.
Normally, he would be put out having a tag along with them. But the girl was growing on him, it felt good having someone to protect and guide. He'd almost be a little disappointed if they decided to send her to Whateley.
Looking around, he realized that things weren't going to get much better than this.
Reaching into his pocket he pulled out a little, battered box. “Katherine, I'd planned on giving this to you on Christmas Eve at Notre Dame, but things kept happening. So I'll do it now.”
Getting down on one knee, he held up a simple diamond ring. “You've been my partner in crime, stuck with me through thick and thin, gotten me out of some tight spots, and made me a better person. Without you, I don't think life would be worth living. Will you marry me?”
Tears welled up in her eyes, and she got a huge grin. “Yes,” she cried, jumping into his arms.