Wizards of Winds and Waves, chapter 38
Apologies for missing not one, but two weeks, especially since I left off with somewhat of a cliff-hanger last time around. I’ve been busy with boat stuff. I’ll try not to leave you all hanging for quite so long until the next chapter.
Wizards of Winds and Waves
Stephane and Mildred took Pierre to Stephane’s building, but they didn’t go up to the flat. Instead, they took him around to the back and down some stairs into a cellar. The stink that assaulted his so-sensitive nose was almost as bad as the pain in his arm, back and shoulder. There was the stench of raw sewage, combined with an acrid chemical odor that turned Pierre’s stomach – and mine, too. “Ooh, honey,” I whispered, “hang in there. Remember Chartreuse de Parme.”
“Chartreuse de Parme?” Betsy asked.
“The scent he gave me,” I said. “It identifies me. I didn’t realize how much until just now. He can be blind and deaf, but he’ll still know me. It’s that nose.”
“That nose.” Betsy gave me a half-smile.
Stephane threw Pierre down onto the floor of the cellar. The stone floor was hard and cold, and rough, tearing his clothes and scraping his skin on his knees and elbows. The floor was also wet, so Pierre’s clothes were soon soaked and clinging to him in a frigid mass, and the moisture made the floor slippery, so that when Pierre struggled to get up, he could not. The moisture on the floor wasn’t plain water; as it seeped into Pierre’s lacerated skin, it stung, and then as it sank in deeper, it burned. He moaned.
“Who are you?” Stephane asked, in a screeching whisper. “What are you? What are you up to?”
“Well, I can tell you who he is,” Mildred squawked, in a voice that sounded like a fast-food drive-through speaker. “He’s my no-good, totally useless, fourth ex-husband.”
I had had no idea Pierre’s second wife was a serial divorcée. “He didn’t know it either,” Betsy said.
“You’re a wizard, aren’t you?” Stephane said. He held out a hand over Pierre, not quite touching. “Oh, yes, quite a wizard. Such a lot of power. How did you escape our notice? You just can’t hide that size of talent. But clearly, you can, if you’ve been hiding it for, oh, forty years or so. Where did you come from? Where have you been until now?”
“You’re telling me this son of a bitch has wizard talent?” Mildred asked. “You gotta be kidding.”
“Absolutely not,” Stephane replied. “Are you telling me you were blind to it when you were married to him?”
“He had no talent,” Mildred insisted. “All he was good at was worshiping that no-good brat of a daughter of his and mooning over his dear departed Dora. Far as he was concerned, I was an unpaid nanny and a good lay once in a while.”
“But, see, you must be wrong,” Stephane said. “He has talent, and I get a strong feeling that ‘no-good brat of a daughter’ has talent, too. You said you unloaded her at a fancy boarding school … might that school have been located underground?”
“They’re onto you,” I told Betsy. “They know Pierre’s a wizard and that you were at the wizard school.”
“Well, it was a very unusual setup,” Mildred said. “Tuition free, even. When the chance came to unload the brat, the choice was simple. Besides, that girl he’s now saying is his daughter, can’t be. His real daughter’s face is all scarred up and ugly. No way that beauty queen that looks like his wife could be her.”
“Mildred, dearest,” Stephane said with a sneer both on his face and in his voice, “your answers are proving most unsatisfactory. Let us see what sort of answers we can get, as it were, straight from the horse’s mouth.” He prodded Pierre’s body with his foot, turning him over onto his back. Agonizing pains shot from Pierre’s shoulder throughout his body, and I bent over double, gasping.
“We’d better get you to a sheltered spot,” Betsy said. “You’re going to rouse attention out in public like this.” She propped me up and helped me into the Metro station, where we went into the women’s room and into one of the stalls, and Betsy set up a quick protection. “Here,” she said. “We’re a couple of American sisters who went out on the town, and you, uh, overindulged.”
Stephane kicked Pierre in the gut – hard. “Oof,” I said, collapsing to my knees. The moisture on the cellar floor was clearly the major source of the stink, and Pierre was definitely feeling nauseated. For the time being I would have no trouble playing the part of the typical stupid American who went out of control and had a little too much French wine.
“Maybe even more than just a little too much,” Betsy said.
“You’re a wizard,” Stephane said. “And you came to our salon. I can’t imagine for a minute that you’re really interested in joining us. And I can’t imagine that you’re working alone. So who are you working for?”
“Nobody,” Pierre groaned. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You came to our salon a few weeks ago,” Stephane said. “But then you were all over town, going to parties and clearly not caring about our cause or the masses. I could sense the magic in you then – oh, you were so smooth, but I could tell. Your protections are good, but no protection could cover you from direct scrutiny.
“Next, along comes your daughter. She’s got magic too.”
“Wait,” Mildred interrupted. “Let’s not forget that this girl isn’t scarred the way Betsy is. She’s an impostor.”
“Okay,” Stephane said. “The girl you claim to be your daughter – we can figure out later whether she really is. Anyway, she has magic, too. And she managed to get young Peter entranced, so he brought her in to spy on us for you.”
“I didn’t … know … about that,” Pierre said.
“Do you really expect me to believe that?” Stephane asked. “Now, maybe I would have thought she came alone, but to find you and your wife had just been dining not two blocks away from our meeting, in an establishment that is far below your usual style – that’s too much coincidence. Such a pity your wife got away, but we will get her soon. So I ask you again: Who are you working for?”
Pierre lay silently, gasping for breath. “He wants me to go for help,” Betsy said. “But I can’t leave you now.”
“I’ll be all right,” I said. “I just need to be sure Pierre doesn’t lose consciousness, so I can continue to keep track of what’s happening to him. You go and get Alois and whoever else is available to help, and meet me back here as soon as you can.”
“Are you sure you’re going to be okay?” Betsy asked. “I don’t like leaving you alone when your attention is focused elsewhere. Someone could sneak up on you.”
“I’ll have to pull back my focus a bit, that’s all,” I said. I wished I could feel as confident as I sounded.
“That’s what I’m worried about,” Betsy said. “You’re putting up a great front, but you know and I know that you’re really in danger.” Betsy left to catch a train back to our flat while I stayed in the rest room for a while longer.
Stephane knelt down and grabbed the front of Pierre’ shirt collar, lifting his upper body off the floor. “If you value your life, you must tell me who you are working for.”
“I’m not working for anybody,” Pierre said. “I just came to the meeting that first time because I was curious. That’s why Betsy went, too.”
Stephane pulled an arm back and slammed a fist into the side of Pierre’s face; his eye erupted in a starburst of pain, and he could feel a hot stream running down from his nose and over his upper lip. He tasted the salty, metallic taste of blood, and he could feel a couple of teeth loose. “We’re going to need to take you somewhere that we can ask questions more effectively,” Stephane said. “Mildred, get the car.”
The door opened, and Peter came down the stairs as Mildred went up and left. “I did what you asked,” he said. “I took Betsy to the Metro station and made sure she caught her train …” He stopped short when he saw Pierre on the floor. “What’s this?”
“We caught a spy,” Stephane said. “Betsy’s father and stepmother were lurking nearby. Clearly, they were waiting for our meeting to end so she could report on it to them. You did make absolutely certain she caught the train?”
“Oh, yes. I took her as far as the turnstile, and I waited there until her train came through, and then I waited a while longer to make sure she didn’t come back out. She got on that train, all right.”
“I sure hope so,” Stephane said. “It wouldn’t do to have her blabbing about our operations to people who don’t share our devotion to the cause.”
Mildred arrived at the door, and Stephane and Peter dragged Pierre up the stairs, bruising his shins on the concrete steps one by one on the way up, and then folded him into the back seat of a small Citroen. Stephane crammed himself in beside him, and Peter sat in the front passenger seat while Mildred drove. “Where are we going now?” Peter asked.
“We need to take him to a place where we can ask him questions with more privacy, more … comfort,” Stephane said. “Depending on what your definition of comfort is.” He chuckled grimly.
Stephane kept pushing Pierre’s head down, but he wasn’t blindfolded, so he could get glimpses of where the car was heading. Unfortunately, those glimpses were not enough for me. Pierre might have been able to recognize where he was, since he was so very familiar with Paris, but there was no way for him to tell me where he was. I wished I could still have Betsy with me, but I realized it was also important to get word to the other wizards in Paris so we could rescue Pierre.
The Citroen pulled up in an alley behind a large warehouse. I guessed it was somewhere close to the river, since Pierre was smelling decaying fish and rotting plant matter as well as feeling cold, damp air. His captors dragged him out of the car and into a back door of the warehouse. At first glance, the building seemed to be furnished as some sort of gym, with many various exercise machines. But a second look revealed that this was no ordinary gymnasium equipment. What first looked like an ordinary massage table had sinister locking clamps at the corners. A sauna was set up to apply not just soothing steam, but superheated blasts, and substances other than water. An exercise bicycle had leg irons on the pedals. A weight machine had pulleys and clamps rigged up to place pressure or to pull on sensitive parts of the body.
Stephane put Pierre onto the massage table and clamped his arms and legs down, wrenching the injured shoulder so hard that Pierre let out a yelp. I was sure the joint was now thoroughly dislocated; Pierre was going to need a whole lot of healing up once he was rescued. Stephane reached into a drawer in the base of the table and pulled out a two-foot-long rod with a grip at one end and two prongs at the other; he tore Pierre’s shirt open and pressed the rod to his side, releasing a stiff electric shock. Pierre’s body convulsed, adding more pain in the shoulder to the jolt from the cattle prod. “Now,” Stephane said, “who are you working for?”
“I’m … working … alone,” Pierre gasped.
Stephane pulled off Pierre’s shoes and socks and gave him another jolt from the cattle prod on the sole of a foot. “Wrong answer. You good wizards always use teamwork. That’s one of your weaknesses – when we catch one of you, we can find the rest. We already know that daughter of yours is a wizard. How about your lovely wife?” He paused to think a moment, then shook his head. “Nah, she isn’t smart enough to be a wizard – if she ever had talent, she wouldn’t be able to use it.” Well, I reflected, at least that part of our ruse was working, if I even had Stephane convinced I was an intellectual lightweight. I wondered how long I could keep that up.