Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Chapter 22

Oct. 19 – 4:45pm

            As the sun slowly surrendered to night’s embrace, Erik completed his tale and silence fell upon the Library. Though he could hear Alex’s soft weeping and Da’ud’s attempts at comfort, he remained strangely detached from it all. His mind was locked in memories of the petite brunette and all the “firsts” they’d shared: the lesson in hand-to-hand combat that ended with making love in the practice room, attending the Carnevale di Venezia where he sang to her while poling a gondola down the canal, returning from their first mission and holding her through her nightmares. Slowly, he saw the things he refused to see at the time. During the last few months, Christine had been distant, irritable, and secretive and he had made excuses for her every time. He’d told himself that she was tired, under a lot of stress, and needed space since he knew he was obsessive with his music and possessive with her. But ever since the Opera and his failed proposal opportunity, he’d known she was no longer his. What has torn him up inside for the past five years, however, was the thought that perhaps she never was.
            He had spent so many years trying to forget her and now that he’d found someone he was beginning to care for, she’d returned. His heart had nearly leaped from his chest when he’d heard her voice again; it was like the past five years had never happened. He’d drank in the sound of her, barely paying attention to her words, but always there had been something nagging at him. Christine had said everything he’d ever wanted to hear, that she wanted to come back to him, that she was being held against her will and had been forced to turn on him. And yet…he couldn’t dismiss the timing of her call. After all this time, why now? It was too much of a coincidence and he didn’t believe in coincidences. Knowing the others were waiting and that it was never going to get any easier, Erik drew in a steadying breath and finally turned away from the window. They needed to discuss the telephone call.
            “It’s been five years since I’ve spoken to Christine,” he poured himself a glass and then brought the brandy decanter to the desk. He had almost emptied the glass before taking a seat. “I’ve thought of her every single day since then and yet now that she’s actually called and wants to meet, I’m reluctant to do so. I have to wonder; why now?”
            “What did she say, old friend?” The detective’s voice was quiet and pained. He hated seeing Christine hurt Erik again; she’d done a good enough job the first time.
            “That she’s been a prisoner this whole time and this was her first chance to call. That she never wanted to betray me or the Agency but was forced to do so. That…that she still l…loved me and wanted to come back.” His voice shook slightly and he reached for the decanter and refilled his glass.
            “Do you believe her?” Again, Da’ud was the one who spoke up; Alex remained silent as she wasn’t sure her input would be listened to or taken seriously. She was also still reeling from his tale and trying to keep from throwing her arms around him to comfort him.
            “I want to, Daroga. God knows I want to!” Erik ran his hand through his hair mussing the usually groomed ebony locks. “But I can’t help but be suspicious of the timing. All these years and this was the first time she’d been free enough to call, just as we’re investigating a case that points directly at her? I can’t overlook that no matter how much I want to.”
            “Have you thought of what you are going to do?” Da’ud continued to gently extract the needed information before his masked friend sought to relieve his pain through his music. “I won’t be mobile for some time so can’t provide back up for you. I don’t like to think of you walking into a possible trap.”
            “I haven’t decided yet what I’m going to do.” That was only half-true. He was going to see Christine, he had to or go mad, but he couldn’t determine his actions after he’d done so.
            “What? Erik, you can’t seriously be thinking of meeting her alone?” The quiet concern in the detective’s voice quickly dissolved into incredulity.
            “I said I have not yet decided, Daroga,” Erik snapped. He would not be interrogated over this, not when he was still in such turmoil.
            “I know you, Erik, and I know what she meant to you, but …”
            Enough!” The beauty of his voice could not be dimmed even as he bellowed the command. Golden eyes aglow with anger, he stalked over to the detective to loom over him. “This conversation is over.”
            “Fine, fine, but I don’t want to have to pull another bullet from your chest, Erik. You might not be so lucky this time if her aim has improved.” Da’ud knew he was pushing his luck as he stared into the furious eyes of his friend. After several long, tense moments, Erik gave a single nod and returned to his chair.
            “I would never dream of asking that of you again. Also, Doc Matthews will be here in a couple of hours to examine that leg and bring you some crutches.” The change of subject declared the discussion about Christine to be over and Erik turned his gaze to the uncharacteristically quiet Alex. “While he’s here, I’m going back to town to check Ms. Butler’s house and the warehouse. We cannot know how she fares without seeing for ourselves, as has been pointed out to me. In this instance, I hope to be proven wrong.” Alex’s blush and murmured thanks were all the proof he needed to know he was doing the right thing. Perhaps he’ll learn something about the murderers as well.

Oct. 19 – 6:15pm

            It had been an hour since Erik had left the Estate. Da’ud had insisted upon him wearing the radio ear piece since he was going alone and to keep the mic open as often as possible. While the masked man was changing into his stealth garb, Alex had written out the address and directions to Lizzie’s house and left it with the detective. Muttering some excuse, she had retreated to her room before he returned to the Library. She wasn’t certain she could restrain herself after the incident in the Music Room if she saw him in that body hugging suit again. Once he’d left, she emerged to fix her and the detective a light dinner and took it to the Library so he wouldn’t have to try to walk.
            As they ate, they kept the conversation to general subjects and avoided the ones they most wanted to speak of: Erik, Christine, and what happened in the Music Room earlier. After dinner was cleared away, however, talk inevitably turned to the events of the day. They began with the most neutral subject: Christine. Though it hurt her to hear how very much Erik loved and was hurt by the beautiful woman, she had to admit that it helped her understand him a bit better. Alex began by telling the detective all she’d found during her online search and he helped her separate true fact from the fabricated fiction of sensationalist journalism. He followed with what little he knew of her directly, how dedicated Erik was to the point of obsession, and the information he’d gleaned after her betrayal. Several agents had been assigned to find and bring her back to stand trial but were never successful; they either failed to find her or never returned at all. Erik’s resignation was already in effect by the time he had fully healed so he was unable to go through official channels to find his missing partner. Instead, he poured his money into private agencies as well as utilized contacts he’d gathered during his time as an agent to search for clues. No amount of Agency resources or Erik’s money had been enough to find Christine after she’d gone into hiding.
            By the time they were finished, Alex was bordering on despair. She wasn’t quite ready to call what she felt for the masked man “love” but it had become clear that whatever it was, it was not to be. The devotion he’d shown to his former partner and lover even after her betrayal only cemented that fact. Perhaps her last boyfriend had been correct; she wasn’t enough to make a man stay faithful much less pull his affections from the woman he loved beyond reason. Now more than ever she needed this whole ordeal to be over so she could return to where she belonged and try to forget her foolish feelings. The detective had just begun to question her about what had happened between her and Erik when the front gate’s monitor buzzed. Relieved, Alex helped him to his feet and over to see who was requesting admittance. Da’ud knew Erik’s security procedures well and verified the doctor’s identity before buzzing him in. After returning him to the comfort of the Library sofa, Alex moved to the front door to lead him to his patient.
            Dr. Matthews recognized the detective from his days at the Agency and they talked for a brief moment before he introduced his intern, a rookie recruit named Raoul de Chagny. He was somewhere in his mid-thirties, she thought, tall but not as tall as Erik and carried a certain air about him that made her faintly uncomfortable. Still, Alex was struck by how incredibly pretty he was with his sky-blue eyes, fashionably tousled blond hair, and perfectly trimmed moustache and goatee. He looked like he’d just stepped out of a photo shoot for GQ; he also had the air of one who knew it. Where Erik was all masculine hard angles, Raoul was so flawless as to be almost feminine. The intern looked around the room before allowing his gaze to fall on Alex. Totally ignoring the doctor and his patient, Raoul pulled over a chair to charm the lovely creature with the cropped red hair and pale green eyes.

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