Clearly, it was time to kill Ned Harwiche III. Adin checked his watches yet again and decided he’d waited long enough. Everyone had their rituals, but Ned’s had to be the stupidest of all, and the most macabre. As it would be getting dark before long, Adin began the lengthy walk back to the street.
Adin had always loved Père-Lachaise cemetery. He’d spent many a fond hour there getting drunk and emotional with his friend Edward, who had always been prone to such things, when they’d been silly and young and given to excess and guyliner. But even though they bore the same first name, Ned Harwiche and Edward Sheffield were two entirely different people.
Only Ned—in a bid to make what was probably a pretty lackluster day in his boring life seem more exciting—would have mysteriously requested that Adin meet him at The Wall at Père-Lachaise to discuss a business proposition. Adin had come willingly enough, even if the location was a little bizarre. He doubted Harwiche chose it for either its personal or its historical significance.
Adin had decided to twit Harwiche and his fastidious, button-down, nelly ass that day by dressing, in what he liked to think of as full vampire boyfriend mode, complete with leather pants, a black silk T-shirt, enough jewelry, chains, and studs to open a hardware store, and eye makeup. A dramatic long silk coat swept the gravestones when the wind whipped it around his calves. A paisley scarf lent the entire ensemble a touch of class. A sure sign that Adin’s vampire lover Donte’s sartorial splendor was rubbing off on him.
All in all, Ned Harwiche didn’t deserve the care he’d taken, but Adin missed Donte—badly—and felt like making trouble. Adin could swear one of the guards still remembered him from when he was a kid. But maybe he’d looked at Adin with vague distrust when he’d passed through the gates earlier that afternoon because of his clothes. The guards probably had their hands full with kids who looked just like he did right then.
Ned Harwiche, however, would find it appalling and appealing at the same time, and he’d spend their entire meeting at war with himself. Since Adin and Ned were minor adversaries at book auctions, Adin was ready for a little passive revenge. He still wondered why Ned had asked to meet him. It looked like his curiosity would go unsatisfied for the moment, because Harwiche, even after all the annoying phone calls and rescheduling he’d done, had failed to show up.
As Adin turned from saying a final good-bye to the wall, two dour-looking men in business suits approached him.
“Will you please come with us Monsieur Harwiche?” one of them asked politely in French.
Adin gave the man a disinterested smile in return and prepared himself to say they had the wrong man. But before he could open his mouth the man who had not spoken lifted his jacket, showing off a gun in a shoulder holster, neatly clearing Adin’s mind of all coherent thought.
“Let’s just say it’s not a request M. Harwiche.” You had to hand it to the French H aspiré. Often one got une grande whiff of whatever had been consumed for lunch. The man grabbed him with a hand attached to an arm so rock solid that it could probably lift him off the ground.
Adin frowned and refused to move. “I believe you’re making a mistake.”
The man who spoke first, whose glasses covered a nervous expression completely at odds with how well he wore his suit, caught Adin’s arm in an unrelenting grip.
“Don’t make us shut you up in a painful way,” he murmured in English. “Just come quietly.
“But—” Adin tried again, getting only the one word out before the first man shoved him forward and the second head-butted his forehead brutally.
Together, the two suits dragged him to the car and pushed him in, but not before he caught a glimpse of Ned Harwiche crouched behind a tall memorial.
On the car ride Adin kept his mouth shut and his ears open. He was vaguely aware of heading toward the river and the area known as the Marais. If he chanced a glance at the man who’d gotten into the back with him, the armed man, he got nothing for his trouble. The man stared passively ahead, virtually immobile, and said nothing at all for the entire ride. The car came to a halt on the narrow street in front of what had—by its sign—at one time been a bakery in the historically protected neighborhood, but now housed what seemed to be a curio shop. The driver got out, and then opened the door on Adin’s side to pull him from the car. The other man emerged behind Adin, unfolding his long legs and taking his time.
“Wouldn’t it be better—?” Adin began but the man with the gun shoved him roughly forward.
“What would be best is if we could all just go inside and do what we came here to do.”
Adin complied. There didn’t seem to be anything for it but to imagine just exactly what he was going to do to Ned Harwiche when he caught up with the little weasel. They opened the door into the shop, causing the jangling of wall-mounted brass bells. An odd-looking man ushered the three of them inside. He closed and locked the door behind them, pulling the blinds to the street shut.
Since meeting Donte, Adin often found himself in surreal situations, but this one was shaping up to be at the top of the list. Everywhere he looked, shelves jammed with books and trinkets lined the walls from the floor to the ceiling. The place was an obstacle course of tables on which rocks and crystals sat in haphazard jumbles. Behind the counter with its ancient cash register, there were apothecary jars filled with various organic things, twigs and leaves and balls of fluff he thought might be the exploded remains of thistle or clumps of down feathers. There were things suspended in acrid-looking fluids he didn’t care to speculate about.
The place looked to be the perfect hokey magick shop; one he thought better suited to Los Angeles and its Buffy wannabes than Paris. But if it had to be here it made sense for it to be in the Marais. It stood only blocks from the Auberge Nicolas Flamel, where the famed fourteenth century alchemist once lived and supposedly turned lead into gold.
The odd man spoke. “I’m Thierry.” His accent was thick and elegant. “You are a not an easy man to pin down, M. Harwiche. I beg you not to insult our intelligence again. The item you asked us to procure will be difficult to conceal for long, and I assume you intend no further delays.”
Adin’s ears burned at the mention of something Harwiche wanted to buy. Ned had given him fits by routinely bidding against him for manuscripts Adin knew for a fact he had no interest in. Harwiche collected erotica, certainly, and that had led them to square off more than once over a particularly good piece. Between Adin’s friends in the business, and the university’s faith in him he’d more than once come out the victor. But this had the effect of turning Harwiche into an even more determined and implacable foe, and he rarely passed up the chance to drive up the price of something Adin wanted—to spite him—whether it was something he collected for his own pleasure or not.
Adin couldn’t begin to imagine how they could be confused for each other. There were photos of both him and Harwiche on the Web. A quick glance into the reflecting surface of a thick glass bottle reminded him he was dressed outlandishly and wearing makeup. Perhaps these men simply thought he must be Harwiche, who was known as widely for his bizarre affectations as he was for his money and the way he spent it. But Harwiche was a fucking troll, and Adin felt more than vaguely insulted by the mistake.
The situation seemed to present the possibility of payback, though, and Adin liked the sound of that very much.
“The item in question. Yes. I’d have to see it first.” He hoped to buy himself time before he had to make up his mind one way or the other about telling them the truth. They didn’t look like they’d take it well.
“I don’t expect you to be disappointed. We went to rather a lot of trouble. This has required a level of logistics and planning that taxed even our considerable resources. I hope to hell you have no plan of backing out.”
“No,” Adin demurred. Shit. “Of course not.”
“Then follow me, please.” The odd man said and led the way to the back of the counter where he drew aside a curtain and then passed through. Once in the back room he opened a door on an interior wall that led to a set of stairs.
The minute Adin set foot on the first stair the hair on the back of his neck prickled, and Adin very clearly heard Donte’s baritone voice say, “Adin! No,” inside his head. He ignored it as usual. Which was all part and parcel of how he’d come to be here in the most romantic city in the world without Donte in the first place, damn the man’s stubborn vampire fustiness.
The stairs were narrow and the carved stone treads were short, his own foot barely fit, and it was a smallish foot by modern standards. These stairs had probably been built in the sixteenth century, when the average man’s foot would have been considerably smaller.
“Once you’ve seen the merchandise, I’m going to ask you to wire the money into our account. I’ll give you the numbers. As soon as the money is transferred, the merchandise is yours, and I’m sure you’ll understand if we return you to your hotel with it. I, for one, will be glad to be rid of it.”
“I see.” Adin kept a hand on the railing on the dark stairs, afraid not only of slipping, but also of being shoved from behind. Which was probably not true.
“No, you don’t see, but you will. I assure you.” At this Adin heard a snick sort of sound he identified a moment later as a lighter.
Aw, fuck Ned Harwiche. He wasn’t exactly the kind of man Adin had pegged for a clandestine meeting in a cloak and dagger, basement-of-a-hoodoo-shop in the middle-of-nowhere. Now that the odd-looking man was lighting antique oil lanterns with a stick lighter, Adin’s urge to go along with the charade was fast dissipating.
When his eyes adjusted, Adin glanced around. The smell was musty with decay and slightly foul, as if there was old food sitting around. There was also the distinct odor of urine, possibly, a kind of chamber-pot smell Adin associated with hospitals and bedpans.
Adin jumped when iron clanked against stone right in front of him. He took an apprehensive step back and that’s when the circle of light from Thierry’s lantern fell onto the face of a young boy. And fuck, he was chained to the wall, manacled and leg-shackled in a space even Adin could barely stand up in, with only a rusted iron cot and tattered sheets to sleep on, unable to go more than a couple feet from the bed in any direction, kept in the darkness and terrorized, given the way the boy cringed from the light. What. The. Hell? Adin thought his heart must be clattering so loudly Thierry could hear it.
“It’s all right. He can’t hurt you.” Thierry’s tone was reassuring. Adin gaped at him. “The iron makes him weak. He has less strength than a child half his age.”
Adin ground his teeth. He’d never encountered anything as appalling as this. How long has Harwiche been trafficking in underage boys? The boy looked up at him as though he’d heard.
“What is your name?” Adin asked stupidly.
“He doesn’t speak, Harwiche. He probably can’t. Not with the iron around his throat. I thought you had some idea of what you were getting into here?”
“I’ll set up the transfer; prepare him to be moved.” Adin wondered how he’d bluff his way through this. He had no idea who he needed to pay, and he didn’t know how much. But whatever it was, he’d do it. This was intolerable on so many levels it was difficult for him to breathe. “Let’s go through the particulars again, though. I find I drank rather too much last night and I’m just a little—”
“Fine.” Thierry led the way back to the stairs. “I have the computers we’ll need in the storeroom.”
“After you,” Adin indicated Thierry should go ahead. “Give me a minute.”
Thierry frowned down at him from the stairs. “I don’t have to tell you I’ve spent a tremendous amount in terms of manpower and money to make this happen. If for some reason you’re thinking of trying to cheat me or the men I work for, I’d advise against it.”
“How could I cheat you? You’ll be at the top of the stairs the entire time.” Adin looked from Thierry to the boy again. Thiery’s face was impassive, but the boy’s spoke volumes. Adin wondered if Thierry saw the hunger for revenge that seemed written there. After shooting Adin a reluctant glance, Thierry left them alone.
Adin took a step toward the prisoner. Adin guessed his age to be around thirteen. His hair was matted and his eyes were clotted-looking shadows in his pale face. The chains reached barely beyond the bed and they clanked as he moved. There was food, Adin discovered; plates stacked on trays on the floor, as though they’d been left there for a dog.
“I’ll be back as soon as I can and then I’ll get you out of here,” Adin told him quietly. His heart started to pound and his gag reflex threatened. He knew even if it cost him everything he had, he’d find a way to liberate this kid and help him make his way home. That’s when Adin realized the boy was gazing athim, giving him a look that could only be considered contemptuous.
Adin shook his head, and walked two more steps toward him, squinting his eyes in the dim light to get a better look. Without moving a muscle, the boy hissed at him.
“It’s going to be all right.” Adin spoke softly “I’m going to find a way to help you.”
It was a shock when Adin very distinctly heard the boy say, “You can’t even help yourself, vampire pet. You should leave before the blokes out there find out you’re not who you say you are.”