Copyright: Original story and characters, copyright D. J. Belt.
Disclaimers: ALT. Caution: this story contains graphic war violence. Also, it contains a situation of domestic violence and abuse.
Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org. Don't be shy; feel free to write me.
Misc: I couldn't resist the pleas for more, so here it is: the fifth in the series. It's a heavy one; hope you like it. Special thanks to Maïté for her kind help with French expressions, grammar, culture, and general beta reading. I sure do appreciate it! Merci ! Vous etes le meilleur ! (Did I say it right?)
As Angelique and Laurie rescue a Café Angel employee from her abusive boyfriend, Angelique is forced to confront and resolve a crippling issue of conscience from her past war experience in Israel.
Angelique, Angelique: Book Two, Angelique: Book Three, Angelique: Book Four
The Gaza Strip, 2003
In the pre-dawn darkness, three figures moved in silence toward the summit of a hill. In the distance, a goat bleated, and far away, an Arab farmer's dog could be heard barking. Near the summit, they dropped prone and crawled to a point behind rocks and brush where they could view the distant fields. It would be dawn soon; it was time to choose their position and secure it.
Angelique Bat-Ami, twenty-three years of age and a sniper sergeant in an Israeli paratrooper brigade, had led her two comrades to the best cover and concealment on the bluff. It had a view of the fields below, fields known to shroud the crudely-manufactured Qassam missiles which had been raining down on Israeli civilians for months. Intelligence sources had pinpointed the farm below them as a location of the missiles. In the morning hours, Arab militants would expose these missiles, fire them haphazardly into Israeli territory, and then retreat into hiding. Sergeant Bat-Ami was determined that, commencing this morning, that would no longer happen from this Arab farmer's fields. No more dead Jews; instead, she would insure that there were some dead Arab militants baking in the sun. Then, paratroopers would approach the farmhouse and out-buildings, clear them of any inhabitants, find any weapons caches, retreat, and call down an air strike on the house to demolish it.
They settled into the summit of the hill and covered themselves with a camouflage netting woven with strips of cloth. She set up her sniper rifle, loaded it, and sighted it. Her two comrades faced away from her, one looking left, one looking right. They would protect her. Then, the wait began.
The wait was always the hardest part for Angelique. It seemed that time stood still. It gave her time to think, and thinking stirred unpleasant memories. She keyed her radio and whispered into it. When she received the anticipated reply, she put it aside and returned her attention to the farm below. Then, she smiled.
“Dov?” she whispered. Her companion to the right grunted in reply. “Is my Hebrew improving?” she asked.
“Your Hebrew is awful. I keep telling you, French Jews can't speak Hebrew worth a shit.”
She snickered at that. “Neither can Ethiopian Jews, it would seem, because I can't understand what the hell you just said.”
Moshe, to her left, had a good laugh. He was sabra , native-born and bred, and he enjoyed his comrades' constant jibing in fractured Hebrew. “Thank God I can't understand either one of you two immigrants,” he muttered.
She heard Dov rumble in laughter. “That's probably why we three get along so well,” he said.
After a moment of silence, Angelique whispered, “Moshe, how's Miriam doing?”
“She's adjusting to being pregnant.” He added, “Finally.”
“That's good,” Dov said. “And how about you, Moshe?”
“Me?” He snickered. “I'm adjusting to her being pregnant.”
“In other words, you're drinking a lot.”
Moshe looked over at Dov. “Oh? You know about these things?”
“Sure. I've got two children.”
Angelique looked at him. “I thought you'd never been married.”
Dov grinned. “I haven't been.”
After a round of quiet laughter, Moshe said, “So, Angel. When are you going to introduce us to that pretty girlfriend of yours? What's her name? Esther?”
“Yes, Angel,” Dov said. “When do we meet her?”
Angelique smiled as she kept a watch through her binoculars. “You two horny goats? Never.”
At that, all three laughed. Dov cast a glance at her. His African features crinkled into a broad smile. In reply, she patted him on the shoulder, and they returned their attention to the fields below.
The sun rose and the air warmed. The mist burned off the fields, and goats roamed the distant farmyard. Finally, four men emerged from the farmhouse. Angelique watched through her binoculars; they were Arab. They were in conversation as they walked, but she was not close enough to hear or understand their words.
They took a place at each corner of a flimsy-looking shed, and each man lifted his corner. The shed rose from the ground, and they walked it back about seven or eight meters. When they did, a rocket-launcher was exposed. A six-foot missile was mounted on it. The men began busying themselves around the missile, preparing it for its inevitable launch.
“Get ready,” Angelique whispered. Then, she sighted down her sniper rifle. She watched, breathing gently. The one in charge was the busiest one; the others just seemed to watch. She chose the busy one, sighted on him, breathed, relaxed, breathed again... and, ever so gently, her finger squeezed the trigger. The rifle's report was muffled and dissipated by the suppressor on the barrel. Her target wouldn't be able to tell from what direction the bullet came. She watched through the telescopic sight; the man's chest exploded, and he collapsed next to the missile.
“Good shot,” Dov reported, as he watched through the binoculars.
Angelique worked with speed now, taking advantage of the momentary shock and incomprehension of the other men. She squeezed the trigger again. A second man whirled, splattering blood across his comrade, and he fell. The third man looked down at himself in horror, then cast frantic glances around the field. As Angelique was about to take him down, he suddenly sprinted toward a dark metallic box about fifty meters from the missile. It was the control box. A fourth man ran back toward the farmhouse.
“That one. He's going to set the missile off. Get him, Bat-Ami.”
“He's too fast.”
“He's out of range of my weapon. You've got to stop him.”
“He's got to stop at the box.” She sighted on the box and watched him. He fell to his knees at the box and lifted it from the ground. It exploded in his hands as a round from Angelique's sniper rifle shattered it. A moment later, another round smacked into the man's chest. He fell aside, jerked a few times, and became still.
Dov was whispering into the radio. They knew that a platoon of Israeli paratroopers was closing on the house from the summit, farther to the north. It was the job of Angelique's team to kill anyone leaving the farmhouse by the back door.
Sergeant Bat-Ami and her two companions rose from their place in the rocks and brush and brandished their automatic weapons. She swung hers from its position across her back and threw the camouflage net across her sniper rifle. They descended from the summit at a run, heading toward the shed. They spread apart, ran at a crouch, and closed the distance quickly. At the shed, she paused before the door, tossed in a grenade, and retreated as it exploded. Then, they entered. No one was there. At her signal, they took position in the dirt facing the back of the farmhouse and waited. She could see paratroopers approaching the other side of the house. A moment later, gunfire erupted from the front of the house. It was a machine gun. She recognized the sound; a Russian-made weapon. The Arabs in the house were going to fight. She saw the paratroopers flatten among the rocks and brush and heard their return fire. She keyed the radio and spoke.
Ten seconds later, the Israelis' firing stopped. She waved to her two companions. “Follow me,” she said, and rose. Her companions rose with her. They charged the back of the house, and they met no gunfire; the inhabitants' attention was focused on the soldiers out front. After what seemed an eternity, but was in reality just seconds, they pressed themselves against the wall on either side of the back door. Angelique motioned with her head; Dov kicked the door open, and in reply to a voice shrieking in Arabic, she and Moshe tossed in grenades. They exploded, and the three Israeli paratroopers swarmed inside, weapons leveled, and opened fire.
In moments, the house was taken. Outside, paratroopers dragged bodies from the house and dropped them in a line as others piled a cache of weapons and ammunition nearby. A demolition team was rigging the Qassam missile with explosives; they would blow it up. A truck pulled up and the tailgate dropped as paratroopers jogged into the distance and took up positions against a possible counterattack by militants.
Angelique removed her helmet and ran a hand through her collar-length brown hair. She stared at the bodies. The count was eight, including a woman and two children. They must have been huddled together; the grenades got them. And she had thrown one. She had thrown one, not knowing for sure who was in that house. And now, she was staring at two dead children. They lay quietly, as if asleep, in the dirt next to their mother.
Dov clapped a hand against her back. “We're done here. Let's collect your rifle and get a ride home.”
“Two children, Dov.”
He looked at the row of silent bodies. “Yes. Two. The grenades got them. Look at the wounds.”
“I did that.” She looked at Dov. “I killed those two children.”
Moshe gripped the front of Angelique's body armor and turned her toward him. “Listen, Angel. It was my grenade, not yours. I'm sure of it.”
She stared at the bodies, then slowly looked up at Moshe. “Thank you, but I don't believe you.”
“Believe it. Look, we did what we had to do. They shouldn't have been in there. If it will make you feel better, we'll go get drunk tonight.”
“Yes,” Angelique said. “I need to talk.”
“Talk to us, then. We're your friends. But don't talk in Hebrew,” Dov joked.
“You two damned immigrants,” Moshe said. “Come on. Let's get our stuff. I'm in desperate need of a shower.”
“Finally,” Dov said. “Something we can all agree on. You need a shower.”
Together, the three soldiers began walking back toward the summit of the nearby hill to reclaim Angelique's hidden rifle and secure their ride home. Halfway there, Angelique stopped, turned, and contemplated the scene for a long, silent moment. Then, she rejoined her comrades.
Paris, France, 2013.
Angelique awoke in the night. She realized that she was sitting straight up in bed, and that she was covered in sweat. She fought down an overwhelming urge to weep as she swung her feet over the side of the ancient four-poster bed. She glanced behind her; her lover was asleep. Good. She hadn't disturbed Laurie.
She rose, walked naked into the bathroom, and pulled a towel from the shelf. She toweled the sweat from her body and face, returned to the bedroom, and slipped on a pair of jeans and a tank top. Then, she walked through her living room and stepped onto the balcony of her second-floor apartment overlooking a quaint Latin Quarter street.
She lit a cigarette. She allowed herself smoking only when she was disturbed or in deep thought, and that seemed to be more and more lately. Still, it was better than liquor. She had tried that, but it only made the memories more painful. And she had to admit that she was a lousy drunk; morose, not charming, and devoid of her usual self-control.
After a while, she crushed out the cigarette and walked inside. She washed her face in the kitchen, toweled dry, and curled up on the couch. Then, she buried her face into a throw pillow and began weeping. Once it began, she couldn't stop it. She had to let it bleed out of her, weep until there were no more tears, no more emotions left, until the memories had receded into the deep, dark parts of her psyche, the parts she tried to leave undisturbed. A hand touched her shoulder, and she did not look up. She knew who was there. She was always there for her.
Laurie sat on the couch and allowed Angelique's head to drop into her lap. Then, she held her, stroked her hair, and whispered loving words to which Angelique had no reply as she wept out the demons of her past.
Israeli Defense Force Judicial Hearing, 2003
The colonel looked up from his desk. “I have reviewed your statements and those of your superior officers, and I find no fault. You did your duty, and you did it admirably.”
On either side of Angelique, Dov and Moshe stood. All three wore the olive green uniforms of the Israeli army. The red berets denoting membership in an elite paratrooper unit were stuffed beneath their left shoulder tabs. Angelique could feel Dov and Moshe relax; she did not. “And you, Sergeant Bat-Ami; your marksmanship was spot on. Four rounds; three dead militants and a broken control box. I commend you.”
“Thank you, Colonel.”
“Do you have misgivings about what happened out there?”
“Yes, sir. Two dead children.”
“I'm sorry for that. We all are. It couldn't be helped, though. You had no way of knowing that they were in the house.”
“They were just children.”
The colonel sighed. He looked at Dov, then Moshe, and asked, “Do either of you have problems with this?” At two negative replies, he dismissed them. They left the room, and the colonel stood. “Sergeant Bat-Ami, walk with me.” He led her from the room, down a hall, and onto an outside patio. Even in the shade, it was hot. He opened a cigarette pack and took one, then offered her one. She accepted, and he raised an eyebrow at that.
“You smoke? Given your obvious level of physical fitness, I would have guessed not.”
“I smoke when I'm... upset.”
“And you're upset about the deaths of those children.”
“Yes, sir.” She accepted a light, took a drag, and exhaled. “I should have looked first.”
“If you had, you might be dead now.”
“And they might be alive now.”
“Instead of a woman and her two children, how do you know it wasn't an Arab militant with an AK-47 in there? After all, someone was shooting at us from that house.” She didn't reply, and the colonel studied her. “How long have you been in Israel now?”
“Five years, sir.”
“I've been here all my life. I'm sixty years old. When I was a kid, the Arabs attacked our kibbutz more than once. We were holding them off with Enfield rifles and home-made Sten guns and gasoline bombs. They would have slaughtered every one of us and danced over our bodies had they bested us. As it was, we defended our farms and our lives by guts alone. I helped to bury the bodies of three of my dormitory mates.” He looked at her. “Children, as you said. That time, it was Jewish children.”
“I'm sorry, sir.”
“The Arabs weren't sorry. One of the dead was my brother. He was nine.”
Angelique nodded. “I buried my sister after a bus bombing in Jerusalem.”
“I wasn't aware of that. How old was she?”
“Twenty-one. I was eighteen.” Angelique exhaled cigarette smoke, then said, “She died in my arms.”
“I'm sorry. It must have been difficult for you. I know that it was for me.” He looked at her. “Sentimentality is for private moments. In combat, there is no room for it.”
“No room for the doctrine of havlaga, ‘purity of arms'? No room for restraint from spilling innocent blood in war?”
“It's a noble doctrine, but sometimes impractical in the midst of combat.” He turned to face her. “I mean to say that you can't hesitate out there. It may get you killed.” He considered the three stripes on her sleeve. “Or get your soldiers killed. Don't let that happen. Lead them. Protect them. No hesitation; no indecision. Israeli paratroopers are the finest infantry in the world. Keep proving it to the Arabs. Perhaps, one day, they'll get the message that if they keep shooting at us, we'll keep making them hurt for it. And perhaps they'll finally stop shooting.” He turned away and smoked silently for a moment, then added, “And who knows? Perhaps, one day, we can even have just a little peace in this land.”
“Yes, sir.” Angelique considered the words while he watched her. Then, she snuffed out her smoke. “I will not disappoint.”
“I know,” the colonel said. “You believe in our fight; otherwise, you wouldn't be here, wearing this uniform, taking Israeli citizenship and a Hebrew last name. Don't lose heart. Search your conscience and become at peace with this incident. You'll have to, or you'll lose your sanity.” She nodded silently. “Look, you're due some leave. Do you want a week?” Angelique thought of it, then shook her head. “All right, then. If you want, a rabbi is available. Or mental health counseling.”
“I'll be fine, sir. Thank you.”
He smiled as they exchanged salutes. Then, she stepped from the covered porch and walked down the sidewalk. As she did, she slipped the red beret from beneath her shoulder tab and snugged it onto her head, then adjusted the strap of the short automatic weapon bouncing against her hip. She noted the careful glances that she received from many of the other soldiers, both male and female, and she felt a grim pride in her elite status. Sergeant in the Paratrooper Brigade of the IDF. A sniper. The elite. The point of the spear. The finest infantry in the world. She could see the respect in the young soldiers' expressions as they regarded her bearing and her presence, her unit patch, the paratrooper badge, her red beret, and the three chevrons of rank on her sleeve.
If only they knew, she thought, that last week, she had killed two children.
She thought of her sister, dead by a bus bombing. She still mourned; she always would. And she would mourn for those two nameless Arab children, too. And she would carry the burden of it as she carried the burden of her sister's death or the stripes on her sleeve or the red beret which she wore, or the burden – and pride – of being a Jew and a soldier, and of protecting her fragile, tiny adopted land of Israel from those who would destroy it.
Paris, France, 2013.
The chords, muffled by the foot pedal, sounded from the baby grand piano in the empty, darkened bar. Angelique watched her hand instinctively form the chords, depress the keys at first softly, then a little harder. They were minor chords, sad ones, melancholy sounds which echoed in the closed bar and in her soul. She gulped the last of her whiskey and rested the glass on a coaster on the piano's lid.
“Angel?” a voice whispered in American-accented English. It came from the nearby stairs leading to the apartment above them. “It's three o'clock in the morning.”
“Laurie,” Angel said. Laurie. That name, the sound of it, comforted her. Someone who loved her for who she was, and who didn't point fingers of condemnation at her for what she had once been and what she had once done. “Go to sleep, love.”
Soft footsteps approached the piano. “I can't sleep without you anymore.” Laurie rested a hand on Angelique's shoulder, and she felt the shoulder stiffen beneath her touch. “What's wrong? Nightmares again?”
“Yes.” Angelique did not look up; she kept her attention focused on the piano keyboard, one hand on the empty whiskey glass. “Nightmares,” she said. “What an odd expression. From where does it come?”
“I don't know,” Laurie said. She sat on the piano bench and stroked her hand across Angelique's back. She could feel the fitness of Angelique's physique beneath the thin tank-top she wore, see the dragon tattoo on her shoulder, the disheveled brown hair partially covering her face. “What can I do for you?” Laurie said.
Angelique held up the glass. “Get me one more whiskey,” she said, then added, “Please.”
Laurie lifted the glass from her hand and stood. She walked behind the long wooden bar which lined one side of Café Angel, refilled Angelique's glass, and poured herself a glass. She drank hers, then poured a second measure. When she emerged from behind the bar, Angelique managed a glance and a smile at her. She never tired of looking at Laurie. At the moment, she was wearing a nightgown. Her red hair, usually in a pony tail, was loose about her face. Her bare feet tread the wood of the floor silently as she walked toward Angelique, sat next to her, and put the drinks on the piano.
“You're drunk,” Laurie said. “I can see it in your face.”
“Not enough drunk,” Angelique said.
“Yeah, you're drunk enough. You're mixing up all your English syntax.” Laurie combed her fingers through Angelique's hair. “That bad, huh?” In reply, Angelique nodded. “Tell me.” She leaned against Angelique. “Tell me about it.”
“You'll feel better if you talk it out.”
“Yeah, you will.”
Angelique looked up. Laurie was shocked at the expression on Angelique's face. The eyes were hollow, pained. She had seen her lover suffer the nightmares before, had held her while she wept, but had seldom seen her this bad.
“You would not understand,” Angelique said. “You would hate me. You would leave me.”
“I will not.” Laurie leaned closer to Angelique. “I love you. I'm with you. And I can't stand watching you being tortured this way. Whatever it is, talk to me. Please.”
In reply, Angelique said nothing.
“Okay,” Laurie huffed. “Here we go with twenty questions.” She decided to ask the hardest one first, the one to which she might not want to hear an honest answer. “Is there somebody else?”
“No. Never. Only you.” Laurie saw Angelique's expression. It was the truth. She released a sigh, and she relaxed.
“Okay. Did this thing happen recently? Here, in Paris?”
“Did this thing happen in Israel?”
Angelique shrugged. “Gaza.”
“Close enough. Did this thing happen when you were a Mossad assassin?”
“What was it, Angel? Come on, talk to me. Tell me.” She watched her lover softly play a few chords, then huffed. “Look, if you won't tell me, then how about a doctor?” Laurie brightened. “Or talk to your rabbi. I like that guy. Don't you?”
“From a doctor, I get pills. From a rabbi, I get words. Neither works.”
“Then talk to me.” Laurie pressed herself against Angelique's side. “Talk to the person who loves you like no one else in this world does.”
“You would not understand, I think.”
“Try me.” Laurie grasped Angelique's chin and lifted her face. Their eyes met. “Try me. Remember me? I'm the one who was getting attacked when you shot that guy in my apartment. You know, the guy who was gonna rape me and murder me? Remember me? I'm the gal who got kidnapped and beaten up and Tasered. Yeah, I still dream about that. Yeah, I still look behind me when I walk down a street. So try me. I just might understand.”
Angelique studied her for a long, silent moment, then managed a weak smile. “I give you sometimes not enough credit, I think.”
“You think right,” Laurie said. She looked into Angelique's face, and what she saw there frightened her. She had to divert Angelique's mind from whatever it was that was consuming her, break the cycle of drink and blame and more drink. After a moment's thought, she knew exactly how to do it.
She scooted around on the bench, hiked up her nightgown, and straddled Angelique's lap so that they were facing each other. Then, she placed a drink in Angelique's hand, lifted her own glass, and clinked the rims together. She said, “I know you're drunk as hell because your English is really all ass-backward and messed up. Now drink up, because I have a request.”
“Drink first. Then, I'll tell you.”
“Okay. L'Chaim, ” Angelique said.
“Yeah, à ta santé! ” Laurie said.
“No, no. Give me American toast,” Angelique said. “From Kansas.”
“Okay. A toast from Kansas.” She squinted in thought, then said:
“Here's to life; ain't it grand!
Just got divorced from my old man.
I laughed real hard at the court's decision;
they gave him the kids and they ain't even his'n!”
They both snorted in laughter, then gulped their whiskies. Laurie set both glasses aside, rested her hands on Angelique's shoulders, and looked into her eyes. “Now, my request.”
Angelique tilted her head. “What is it, this... request?”
“I've only seen you drunk once before, but I remember how you got with me. So, since you're sloppy drunk now, I'm taking advantage of you.”
“Yeah. I want you to carry me upstairs and...” She leaned forward and whispered into Angelique's ear. Then, she leaned back, pulled her nightgown over her head, and dropped it on the piano keyboard. She wore nothing beneath it. “‘Cause you get freaky when you're drunk.”
“And you want – ?”
“Oh, yeah. The freakier, the better. Show me your dark side, you drunk-ass momma.”
Angelique gathered Laurie in her arms and stood. She pushed the bench aside with her leg, and she walked toward the stairs carrying Laurie. They paused halfway up the stairs as Angelique leaned against the wall and shot Laurie a puzzled look. She said, “I am not momma. No children.”
“It's an expression.”
“Oh. Kansas girl, always with expressions.” She looked down at Laurie, gathered in her arms. “And without clothes.”
“As you say. Upstairs.” She took several more steps, then paused in front of the apartment door. “It is okay if we – ?”
“Yes! Whatever, yes.” Laurie nudged the door-handle with her foot. The door squeaked open.
Angelique paused again halfway through the door. “You are sure?”
“Angel, just go for it!”
Angelique wobbled a little, then stepped inside the apartment. “You are a bad girl, I think. They are all bad like you in Kansas?”
“Naw. The church girls are a lot worse.” Laurie managed to shut the door, and a moment later, the bolt was shoved home. The last sound that echoed in the empty, darkened bar was Laurie's laugh.
Later that morning, Maurice turned his key in Café Angel's front door and opened it. The delivery men would be here this morning, and he was always present for that. After that, he'd go home to his family and return in the evening to bar-tend and manage the place while Angelique played her piano and sang for their customers.
His practiced eye noticed that the bar was neat and orderly; he, Angel, Laurie, Emma, and the other servers had cleaned up last night, after closing. But he noted a few things out of place. He stopped at the bar, dropped his keys behind the counter, and lifted an errant bottle of American whiskey from the bar. It was almost empty, and he remembered it as being three-quarters full at the end of last night. He looked around, and his eye guided him to Angelique's baby grand piano. The keyboard cover was up, two empty glasses were on the piano's lid, and... what was that draped over the keys? He laughed when he realized what it was. It looked to be Laurie's size. He grabbed the glasses, walked behind the bar, and chuckled. The boss and Laurie must have had a party last night.
Before Laurie came into their lives, the boss would do that periodically, he recalled. Normally guarded, normally the epitome of self-discipline, occasionally she'd connect with some girl in the bar, and that girl would sneak down the stairs from Angelique's apartment the next morning, looking embarrassed as Maurice greeted her and the boss with fresh coffee and a hearty “ Bonjour! ” A few of the names and faces he remembered; most, he did not. Sometimes, they stayed for coffee and conversation; often, they did not. But Laurie was the best of all of them, and she stayed for good. A lanky, red-headed American girl with that blunt, honest manner, speaking her ever-improving French with a thick American accent, lighting up the place when she trotted into the bar from her morning language class or when she hustled drinks and coffee to her tables every evening. Sunshine, that was her. And always with the jokes. And the boss soaked it up. The boss adored her. He'd never, in the time he was associated with Angelique's bar, seen the boss so happy, so content. Maurice smiled at the thought; it was about time that Angelique got some happiness.
Maurice put away the whiskey bottle, then proceeded to make coffee. He decided to make a double batch; from the amount of whiskey missing, he deduced that the two girls that lived above the bar would not be in a pleasant frame of mind this morning. It wasn't long before he found out just how right he was.
He was watching the morning news on the little television over the bar when the shuffling sound of slippered feet attracted his attention. Angelique slid onto a bar stool and held her head in her hands. He smiled as he placed a coffee cup before her, and he spoke in French.
“Tough night, Boss?”
“Um.” Angelique pointed toward the stairs.
Maurice laughed. “Boss, you look like shit. You must have gotten as full as a goatskin last night.”
“Um. Completely buttered.”
“From the amount of our expensive whiskey that you drank, I would say so. That's not like you.”
“Um.” Angelique cast a glance at Maurice from between her hands. “Forgive, please.”
He laughed. “It's not me with a headache this morning.”
"Headache?" Angelique mumbled. "Even my hair hurts."
"Hairache, then." He clapped a bottle of aspirin on the bar. “Take two. No, three. No, four. You really look like shit.”
Maurice fetched the coffee-pot, and when he turned around, Laurie was easing herself onto a bar-stool next to Angelique. She sat gingerly, then fixed Maurice with bleary eyes. “I need coffee,” she managed to say. She huffed and blew a shock of loose red hair from her face. “Please, Maurice. I'll love you forever for a cup of coffee.”
“You love me now!” he said. Maurice placed a second coffee cup on the counter and poured two cups. Cream and sugar followed, and he watched in amusement as Angelique tried to successfully negotiate putting cream and sugar into her coffee. It was time, he decided, to have a little fun.
“So, Boss. Are you going to practice your music today, before we open?”
“If I don't die first,” Angelique said.
“A hangover never killed anyone,” Maurice countered.
“Damn,” Angelique said. “I was hoping for the relief.”
“I ask because someone left a nightgown on your piano.”
Laurie muttered a newly-learned profanity in French, then eased herself off the barstool and went to the piano. Sure enough, there it was. She carried it back to the bar and slid onto the bar-stool. “Umph,” she said. “I wondered where I left it.”
“What's this?” Maurice teased. “You don't have an apartment, that you two have to do it in the bar?”
“We did not do it in the bar!” Laurie objected.
Maurice laughed. “That's good, because we have a security camera, remember?” He heard the front door bell ring, and he left the bar to open the door to the delivery men.
Angelique and Laurie shot glances at each other, then buried their faces in their arms on the bar. “Can you find the video and erase it?” Laurie asked in English.
“I can, but it goes directly to security company,” Angelique said. “They have it, also.”
“So some night-shift bozos at the security company saw me naked last night?”
“I suppose.” Angelique popped three aspirins and followed it with a slurp of coffee. “If they were not sleeping.”
“Aw, Jeez.” Laurie's head dropped back onto her arms.
“So what?” Angelique said. “It is just a little nudity. No... how-do-you-say? No big deal?”
“No big deal? It'll probably end up on the internet. The next time somebody googles ‘Café Angel', that's what will come up: me, naked as a jay-bird.” She sighed. “Thank God it doesn't record voices.” A long, uncomfortable moment of silence passed. Laurie looked at Angelique. “It didn't record what I said, did it? Tell me it didn't, Angel.”
“The bar, it was quiet. Perhaps.”
“Oh, God.” Laurie buried her face in her arms. “Internet, here I come.”
Angelique managed a laugh. “Then,” she said, “you will be famous, no?”
“No. Infamous is more like it. My mother may see that.”
Angelique puzzled over that statement. “Your mother looks for you naked on the internet?”
“Shut up and pass the aspirin,” Laurie muttered, as the delivery men wheeled a hand-truck full of liquor and beer into the bar.
That evening, Laurie leaned against the bar, re-banded her hair into a pony tail, and watched her booths as Angelique's piano sounded in the background. Everyone seemed content. Couples were talking, laughing, and drinking. Many were focused on Angelique's music, nodding to the rhythm of the song, occasionally singing. In a corner booth, two young lovers were curled up together, oblivious to all but themselves, trading gentle kisses. Laurie smiled at that. She loved sappy love stories, and there was one unfolding right in front of her. How neat was that?
Emma leaned against the bar and cast a glance over her tables. She spied the young couple in the booth, elbowed Laurie, and said, “Ah, love. It's a madness, huh?”
“My father says that it's a temporary madness, easily cured by marriage,” Laurie said.
“Wow. That's funny.” Emma said, “And your French is really improving.”
“Especially the dirty words, thanks to you.”
“It's a necessary thing to know in any language,” Emma said as she laughed.
Laurie smiled at her. She liked Emma; a girl with a golden heart. Emma was offbeat in a really neat way, the sort of girl who'd generate odd looks and wild speculation in Kansas, but somehow, seemed right at home in the Latin Quarter of Paris. A purple streak of hair over her forehead, a couple of facial piercings, and a riot of colorful tattoos along the exposed part of one forearm, she was adorable in a kooky way. When she returned the glance, Laurie noted a smudge of green circling one eye. It didn't look like make-up.
“Your eye – what happened?” Laurie asked.
She became solemn, and she glanced down. “Nothing. Ah, a door. Excuse, please.” She left the bar and headed toward her tables.
“Hmm,” Laurie said. Then, she made the rounds of her booths.
A few hours later, the last customer had left. Angelique, Maurice, and the servers were hustling about, setting things in order, sweeping the floor, loading the last of the glasses into the dishwasher. Emma took Laurie's arm. “Oh, Laurie! Guess what?”
“I saw you on the internet today!”
Her eyes twinkled. “You looked very sexy.” Then, she laughed as she returned to the bar.
Laurie felt her face heat with an embarrassed blush. Then, she noticed Maurice shaking in laughter, and she put her hands on her hips and cast him an evil glare. “Maurice!” she said.
He roared in laughter. “Your expression was priceless!” he said.
In spite of her chagrin, Laurie felt a smile form on her face. Okay. Yeah, that was funny, she decided. And I'm gonna hear about that one forever, I guess.
Later that evening, Laurie stood at the front of the bar, watching everyone exit, preparing to lock the door. When Emma passed, she placed a hand on her arm and guided her aside. “Emma, may we talk?”
Emma cast her a puzzled glance. “Yes, of course.”
“Good. Come, sit.” Laurie pulled Emma into the corner booth. “I wanted to ask you about your eye.”
“Nothing,” Emma said. “It's nothing.”
Laurie said, “You're living with your boyfriend now?”
“Yes. He lost his job. He has nowhere else to go.”
“Tell me about him.”
“Jean?” Emma shrugged. “Oh, he's...”
Laurie noted the hesitation. “Are you two fighting?”
Laurie pointed at Emma's eye. “Not like that. Did he do that?”
“No, no.” She looked away.
Laurie fixed her with a knowing look. “Emma?”
Emma's chin trembled. “Perhaps. Yes.” She saw Laurie's shock, and she said, “He said that he was sorry. He said it wouldn't happen again.”
“That's what they always say. How long have you known Jean?”
“Not long. A month or two. He was so nice at first. Then, more and more, he becomes – ”
Laurie struggled with the language. “Telling you what to do?” She squinted in thought. “Intimider?”
Laurie said, “ Tyrannique? ” Emma nodded. “Are you afraid of him?”
“Sometimes, yes. He's two different people. Sometimes so sweet, and sometimes so...”
“Tell him to go. Get rid of him, Emma.”
She looked at Laurie. “I don't know how. He'll get so angry.”
“Come with me.” She locked the door, then took Emma by the hand and led her back to Angelique's office. It was a cramped little room by the back stairs to the apartment, crammed with a desk, a computer, ledgers, a copy machine, and all the implements of a bar-owner's office. Angelique looked up when they entered.
“What's the matter?” Angelique asked.
“Emma's got a problem,” Laurie said. She pointed toward her own left eye, then pointed toward Emma. “Her boyfriend.”
Angelique's gaze went from Laurie's face to Emma's eye. Emma said, “I don't know what to do.”
Angelique pointed to a chair. “Sit,” she said. “And we'll talk.”
Later that night, Laurie was toweling herself dry after her shower when Angelique entered the bathroom. She looked up. “Do you think she'll take our advice?” Laurie asked in English.
“I do not know,” Angelique said. “It is a difficult situation for her. I hope she does.”
“And how about you?” Laurie asked. “How are you doing?”
Angelique turned from the sink and approached Laurie. “I am well, thanks to you.” She touched Laurie's face, ran her fingers along her forehead and combed back a hunk of wet hair. “I know why you did that last night.”
“I could never fool you, huh?” Laurie said.
“Thank you.” The words were simple, but heartfelt. “Why did you think to do that?”
Laurie leaned against Angelique and rested her head against her neck. “It's a vicious cycle that you were into. You're low, and you start drinking. You get lower, and you drink more. Where does it stop?” She lifted her head and looked into Angelique's hazel eyes. “I know ‘cause I've been there, but not like you have. You've seen and done shit that I can only guess at, and I think you have some heavy stuff on your conscience. And you won't share it with anyone. Until you do, you'll keep hurting.”
“I can't tell you about it,” Angelique whispered.
“If you can't tell me, then who? Some stranger?” She rested a wet hand on Angelique's shoulders. “Before tonight, Emma had a secret, and she had no options. She talked to us. Now, she has options. It makes a difference, to talk. Talk to me, Angel. Let someone who loves you listen.”
Angelique held Laurie at arm's length. She looked as Laurie stood there, holding a towel around her body. Her wet hair, slicked back from her face, made her brown eyes seem even larger, more intent and perceptive than usual. She could not refuse Laurie anything. “I will. But not tonight,” she told Laurie.
Laurie smiled. “Well,” she said. “That's progress, anyway.” She pulled the towel from her body and began toweling her hair dry. “I'm here whenever you want to talk.”
“I know. And I love you for it,” Angelique said, as she lifted her toothbrush and turned on the sink water.
Laurie stopped toweling her hair. “Angel, that's really nice.” She smiled. “I love you, too. Always.”
“I know.” She watched as Laurie turned away. “And you have a red mark.”
Laurie shot her a puzzled glance. “I've got what?”
“There.” Angelique turned her toward the mirror. “See?”
“Oh!” Laurie noted a hand-shaped red splotch on her behind. “Gosh! I wonder who did that?” She eyed Angelique, who blushed.
“I'm sorry,” Angelique said. “But you said...”
Laurie saw Angelique's apologetic expression, and she laughed. “It's okay.”
“You're always so gentle with me,” Laurie said. “Maybe once in a while, I like wild.” With that, she shot Angelique a teasing glance, wrapped the towel around her wet hair, and left the bathroom.
Angelique thought about that, then stepped into the hall and lowered her toothbrush. “I learn more about you every day.”
Laurie's laugh echoed from the bedroom. “Good!” she said. “Then you'll never be bored with me.”
The Gaza Strip, 2003.
Sergeant Bat-Ami and her companions rested in the rocks and dirt above a village on the far outskirts of Bayt Hanun, just inside the border of Gaza. Below, they saw occasional movement, but nothing suspicious. A group of women moved along a street, baskets on their arms, heading to the market. A dog wandered the street, and a man with a donkey cart trundled away from the little village. Dov scanned the area with binoculars as Angelique watched through the telescopic sight of her sniper rifle.
“This is shit,” Dov said in Hebrew. “There's nothing here.”
“Shit?” Moshe echoed. “We're lying in some, I think. Damned goats or something. Do you smell it?”
“I thought that was you.”
Angelique laughed softly. “Enough,” she said. “Keep looking. They think there's Qassam rockets here.”
“If there's Qassams here, then I'm – ”
Moshe's words were cut off by a series of roars and several columns of smoke rising from the center of the village. Several six-foot-long Qassam missiles streaked into the air, trailing thick white smoke behind them. Angelique's radio crackled with an anxious voice in Hebrew, and she slapped her two companions on the shoulder. “Follow me,” she said. She rose, lifted her sniper rifle from the ground, and ran toward the south end of the village. Behind her, a squad of a dozen Israeli paratroopers followed.
They reached the walls of the outlying buildings, and she slung her rifle across her back. She motioned toward the roof, and Dov and Moshe hiked her into the air. She grasped the edge of the roof and pulled herself up. At a crouch, she walked across the flat roof, dropped behind a low wall, and studied the village center. Several men were attempting to lower trap doors and disguise some Qassam launching rails, hidden in pits in the ground, as smoke lingered in the air.
Dov and Moshe huddled on the roof next to her. Angelique handed Moshe the radio and said, “Report this,” then unslung the rifle from across her back and sat down on the roof. She rested the barrel on the wall's edge and took aim, then began controlling her breathing as she applied pressure to the trigger.
In thirty seconds, three men lay sprawled in the street. The others had scattered, and sporadic shooting erupted from the village. It was the distinct sound of AK-47 rifles. Arab militants were firing, but no rounds were hitting nearby; she did not hear the zip and ping of bullets. The militants were spooked and shooting wildly. Very soon, Israeli paratroopers would enter the north end of the village and attempt to drive their enemy toward the south end. There, Angelique's squad would help ambush them. Any male with a weapon was a target; no mercy would be shown.
Moshe retreated to take control of the rest of the squad, and he left Dov and Angelique on the roof. She had a good command of the road south, so she would stay here for the moment. Targets would present themselves.
Soon, they did. In the street below, several armed men ran south as Israeli weapons in the north end of the village sounded. She took down the lead man, then focused on one carrying an RPG launcher. In a second, he was down, too. The others panicked and began shooting wildly about them. Dov tossed a grenade into the street. When they saw that, they began shrieking and scattering. The bang of the grenade left one man lying in the street. As he crawled toward a door, he left a dark trail of blood in the dirt. Angelique's rifle bullet tore a hole in his chest, and he lay still.
In the street below, Moshe whistled, then waved at her. He signaled that the house-to-house search for militants would begin. She waved back, and turned toward the back of the roof. Dov was at her side; they ran across the roof in a crouching position.
As they did, a roof trap-door banged open. As if in slow motion, a man wearing a black-and-white checkered keffiyeh head cloth rose, aimed an AK-47 rifle at them, and began firing. She heard the loud pop-pop-pop, and she saw Dov twist and fall. She did not think; she reacted. She whirled; her sniper rifle sounded, and his head exploded. The weapon dropped from his hands, and his body disappeared. The trap door remained open; Dov crawled toward it, and he dumped a grenade into it. A moment later, it exploded, and smoke exited the trap door. Screams sounded from within the house, and Dov pointed his automatic weapon into the trap door and riddled the interior with bullets. When his weapon clicked empty, it was quiet within.
“Are you hurt?” Angelique asked, then noted the blood on his face and arm. As he loaded another magazine into his weapon, she ripped away the cloth of his sleeve. He had been shot, but it was a clean, through-and-through shot. She did not see bone, and it was not bleeding too badly. She pulled his aid kit from his belt, opened it, and applied the dressing. When she'd tied it off, she looked at him. “Can you continue?” she asked. At his nod, she slung the sniper rifle across her back and brandished her automatic weapon. She pointed it over the rim of the trap door, then slowly descended the ladder. Dov followed, his injured arm folded against his side, his good arm aiming his weapon. They reached the floor, then looked around.
The walls were peppered with holes and smears of blood. Several bodies lay sprawled in various contorted positions within the house. Most were men, but one was a woman. A child was among the bodies. Angelique looked at Dov, and he responded with a stoic expression.
“God, Dov,” she said. “Children again. What the hell are we doing?”
“The damned militants use them as human shields. They do it on purpose, Angel.”
She opened her mouth to reply, then froze. She'd heard a noise like the whine of a puppy. She glanced at the bodies, and saw movement. The child was alive, but injured and bloody. Grenade wounds, like the last ones. She bent over him and looked closely. He was a boy, perhaps six or seven years old. She bent low, picked up the child, cradled him in her arms, and let her automatic weapon hang by her side. A glance through the window showed paratroopers moving up the street; they were almost parallel with the house. She called out to them in Hebrew as Dov opened the door. Then, she stepped into the street. A second later, behind her, the noise of several shots stung her ears.
She turned; Dov was standing in the door, his smoking weapon pointed toward the floor. She stared at him, watched him as he pulled a blood-smeared AK-47 from a body. “He wasn't dead,” Dov said. “He is, now.” He stepped from the building, leaned against the wall, and dropped the AK-47 in the dirt. “He was going to shoot you in the back,” he said. “You're going to get yourself killed one day.”
“Thank you,” was all she could manage to say. In reply, he nodded. Then, he slid down to a seated position, leaving a smear of blood on the wall behind him.
Soldiers passed them by, kicking doors open and tossing grenades into houses. A medic knelt next to Dov, and he nodded toward Angelique. “The kid first,” he said.
“Put him down here,” the medic said as she pointed next to Dov. Angelique laid the boy down in the street, and the medic looked into his eyes and felt his throat. Then, she looked up at Angelique. “He's dead.” She gestured toward Angelique. “Bled out all over you, I think.”
She looked down. She was smeared with the child's blood. She looked away as she felt her eyes water. A hand tapped her shoulder, and a voice said, “Come on, Angel. Let's finish and go home.”
She looked up. A paratrooper waved her on as he walked by. “Go on,” Dov said. “I'll be fine.” Then, he pointed at the child. “That wasn't your fault, you know. You did what you could do.”
Angelique turned and trotted down the street, attempting to find Moshe. She cradled her automatic weapon, held it tightly and blinked back disgust and tears and hatred of their enemy. She would kill every militant, slaughter those who put their children in harm's way. No mercy; no quarter. Like killing cockroaches, she would keep at it until they all were dead. Or until she was dead.
She took the lead and kicked in the next door. Her hand was on a grenade, but she decided against it. She entered, and several occupants began chattering in Arabic, their hands in the air. “Weapons!” she said in Arabic. Heads shook. “Weapons!” she said again. Again, their heads shook. Their frantic expressions denoted fear, and truth often accompanies fear. She stepped into the next room as soldiers behind her kept the occupants at gunpoint, and she searched. There wasn't much there; just beds made up on the floor and a stick or two of furniture. They were simply Arabs living in poverty, hapless hostages trapped between the two opposing armies fighting around them. If one side doesn't kill them, the other side will. It's a hell of a way to exist, she decided. She turned to leave, but a sound caught her attention. She listened, then walked back into the center of the room. She listened again, carefully, slowly pacing the room, then faced a closet door.
“Come out, hands up!” she ordered in Arabic. “Come out!”
The door burst open, and her weapon chattered. A beat-up AK-47 rifle clattered across the floor in front of her, and the body of a young man thudded onto the floor and began pooling blood. Shrieks sounded from the women in the next room. They knew that he was in there, she thought. They knew. Another son dies; another mother grieves. On the Israeli side of the border, she thought, wherever those Qassams dropped out of the sky, there's probably a dead son and a grieving mother there, too. Will it never stop?
She shot the body once more, then lifted the AK-47 from the pool of blood on the floor and carried it through the main room. The occupants of the room raised their voices in wails and curses, their hands in the air, as they saw her carry the bloody rifle out of the house and drop it in the middle of the street. Then, she proceeded to the next house and kicked the door open, to the shrieks of its occupants.
When they quit killing us, she thought, we'll quit killing them.
Paris, France, 2013.
Angelique sat up in bed, wet with perspiration again. She rose, toweled herself dry, then returned to bed. She sat silently for a moment, then looked toward Laurie. She was still, silent in the darkness. She reached out a hand, then retracted it, not wishing to disturb her sleeping lover. But Laurie's whisper caught her by surprise.
“Another bad dream, huh?”
“Are you ready to talk about it yet?”
Laurie sat up. “Well, hallelujah. I'll put on the tea kettle. Or do you want something stronger?”
“Me, too.” Laurie rose, pulled a nightgown over her body, and walked out of the bedroom. Angelique wrapped a robe around herself, then followed. When Laurie heard this story, she wondered, what would she think?
The next evening was a typical night at Café Angel: a fair business, Angelique's music, and the familiar faces of locals. As Angelique played and sang in the background, Laurie, Emma, and a couple of other servers, ‘bar-girls', as they called themselves, hustled coffee and wine and drinks to their booths and tables. She noticed that Emma seemed quiet, but otherwise okay.
As the customers thinned and the hour grew late, close to closing, a young man entered, looked around, then sat at the bar. Maurice spoke to him, then served him a drink. As Laurie leaned against the bar waiting for Maurice to pour her drinks, the young man tapped her arm and leaned toward her. He spoke in French.
“Are you Laurie?”
“Yes,” she said.
“I'm Jean.” When she didn't respond, he urged, “Emma's boyfriend.”
Laurie's gut knotted. She considered him for a moment, decided on a simple “Bonsoir,” and then collected her drinks and left. She passed by Emma and said, “He's at the bar.”
Emma paled, then walked to the bar and spoke with Jean. He turned toward her, spoke softly to her, touched her arm. Then, he held out his hand. She shook her head, and his smile disappeared. His voice rose a little, and Maurice cast him a sidelong glance. Emma shook her head again, and whispered to him in a frantic manner. Laurie watched from across the bar as Angelique's piano sounded softly in the background. Then, she laid her tray on an empty table and approached them. She rested a hand on Emma's arm to get her attention.
“We need you in the office,” Laurie said, then looked at Jean. “Excuse, please.” With that, she led Emma into the office. It was empty; Angelique, of course, was at the piano. “Just stay here,” Laurie said to Emma. “We'll get rid of him.”
But what about my tables?” Emma said. “I still have two.”
“I'll get them,” Laurie said. With that, she closed the office door and headed back out to the floor. She checked on Emma's two occupied tables, then her own booths, and stopped at the bar. Jean was watching her. He said, “Where's Emma?”
“She has to work in the office,” Laurie lied. “Part of her job.”
He eyed Laurie with a mistrustful look, then threw some money on the bar. “Tell her I'll see her at home,” he said, then stood and left.
Laurie exhaled the breath she'd been holding, and she leaned against the bar. Maurice said, “I don't like that fellow.”
“I don't, either,” Laurie said. She headed back to the office and knocked on the door. “Emma? It's Laurie. He's gone.”
She opened the door. “Was he angry?” she asked.
“I don't know. He said he'd see you at home,” Laurie said.
Emma paled, then nodded. “It will be all right,” she said. “He just wanted money.”
“He doesn't have a job yet?”
“No,” Emma said.
“And he wanted your money?”
“Yes. I told him no. The rent, it is due. I barely have enough.”
Jeez, Laurie thought. You sure know how to pick ‘em. Aloud, she said, “You can stay with us tonight.”
“Oh, no! If I don't come home, he'll think I'm cheating on him. I have to go home, or there will be endless questions. Another argument.”
Laurie considered what Emma had told her. She was right; any deviation from the normal routine would arouse suspicion. Luckily, Emma only lived a couple of blocks away, and usually walked to and from work. At night, Maurice walked her home. It was on his way. Finally, Laurie said, “All right. But you come to us right away if you have any problems.”
“I will. Thank you,” she said. She hesitated for a moment, then hugged Laurie. “Thank you,” she whispered again, then left the office.
A moment later, Angelique walked in. “What was that about?” she asked in English.
“Emma's boyfriend was here,” Laurie said.
“I get a bad feeling about that guy.”
“Um.” Angelique shook her head. “She must get rid of him, yes?”
“Yes.” Laurie stepped close to Angelique. “I'm worried about her.”
“It is her life. If she wants our help, we will give it. If not, then...” She shrugged. “What can we do?”
“What if he hurts her?”
Angelique thought about that question, then looked at Laurie. “Then I will hurt him back. That, I promise you.”
Laurie left the office, heading toward her last occupied booths. On the way, she thought about what Angelique had said, and it scared her. Angelique was hesitant to use violence, but she could be vicious, even deadly, when confronting evil and protecting the innocent. And Emma was an innocent, a young lady with a sweet and kindly disposition. If anything happened to her, Jean's future would not be long or pleasant.
That night, after Laurie's shower, she slipped into a nightgown and nestled into a big chair to read. In the background, she heard the shower stop. Angelique would be out soon; they would perhaps have a drink, talk a little, and then go to bed. Laurie smiled at that. They were getting so domestic, she thought. And she liked the familiarity of it, the comfort of it. She returned her attention to her book.
In a little while, Angelique emerged from the back of the apartment, wearing a loose robe. She walked to the kitchen, poured two glasses of wine, handed Laurie one, and sat on the sofa. She curled her legs beneath her, then spoke in English. “You are okay?”
Laurie closed the book. “Yeah. How about you?”
“You only told me part of your story last night,” Laurie said.
“And you wish the rest of it?” Angelique asked.
“If you feel like talking about it.” At Angelique's nod, Laurie got up with her wine glass and snuggled down on the sofa next to Angelique. “Does talking help?”
“Yes. How odd, but it does.”
“It's not odd.” She drew her legs up beneath her and leaned against Angelique. “Okay,” she said, “I'm ready. Hit me with it.”
Angelique talked for a while, slowly at first. She talked about the Gaza village, the dead child in her arms. Laurie listened; occasionally, she responded, but mostly, she just listened, her attention fixed on Angelique. Finally, as a spring winds down, Angelique fell silent.
“And this is what you dream about?” Laurie asked.
“Some. There is more.” Angelique managed a smile. “But I am tired.”
“Yeah. Me, too.”
“We go to bed?”
Laurie nodded. As Angelique rose and walked into the bedroom, a frantic tapping sounded on the apartment door. It sounded again as the doorbell rang, and Laurie peered through the peephole. She unlocked the door and pulled Emma into the apartment. In the light, she got a good look at Emma's face, and she gasped. She'd been beaten. Her eye was swollen half-shut, and her lip was cut. Her nose was bloody. The left side of her face was bruised. There was dried blood on her face and hands.
Emma was crying and speaking at the same time. Laurie concentrated to try to understand her rapid French. “He – he hit me,” she said. “Again and again. It was like he wanted to kill me. He was so angry.”
“Who did this?” Laurie said. “Jean?”
Angelique emerged from the bedroom, and she led Emma to the kitchen table and sat her down. She looked her over, then asked, “Where else do you hurt?”
“Here.” She opened her jacket and she lifted her shirt. Her abdomen was red above her navel.
Angelique, kneeling before Emma, looked up at Laurie. “I'll kill him,” she said, as she rose and turned toward the bedroom.
“No! Angel!” Laurie said. “We have to do this right. We have to call the police.”
Angelique considered the statement, then nodded. “Yes. A report. They will arrest him.”
Emma looked up. “But they'll just let him out of jail,” she said, “and he'll be angry after that. He'll come looking for me.”
“He won't find you,” Angelique said, “because you'll be here.” She lifted her cell phone from the counter and dialed the police, then spoke as Laurie fussed over Emma and brought her a drink from the refrigerator. When Angelique hung up the phone, she said to Emma, “And don't clean up yet. I want the police to see you like this.”
An hour later, the police had finished their interview and taken their photographs. As they headed for the front door, Angelique took one of them aside. “Will you arrest him?”
“If he's there, yes,” she said. “He'll be in jail for a day, at least. That gives her time to get her things and get out.”
“But it's her apartment.”
“He's going to get out of jail. She had better not be there when he does.”
Angelique scribbled a note and handed it to the officer. “She can live here, with us. This is my telephone number. Call me when you get him. Then, I'll take her over there to get her things. We'll take her to hospital in the morning.”
The policewoman nodded. “A good idea. I'll call you. Good-night.”
Angelique locked the door behind them after they left, then turned to Emma. “Do you understand what we're to do?” Emma nodded. “When we hear that he's arrested, we'll go get your things.”
“What about my apartment?”
“We'll talk with your landlord in the morning.”
Emma shrugged. “It's just as well, I suppose. I can't pay the rent, anyway.” At Angelique's odd glance, she explained, “He took my rent money.”
“I may still kill him,” Angelique said, then walked into the bedroom.
Emma looked at Laurie. “She is kidding, isn't she?”
“No.” Laurie managed a smile at Emma. “Look, go clean up in the bathroom. You'll feel better.”
Emma grasped Laurie's wrist. She looked up from where she was sitting. “Thank you,” she said.
In reply, Laurie could only smile painfully and hold Emma while she wept.
“That's all of it, I think,” Emma said. “I don't own much.” Angelique, Laurie, and Emma stood in the living room of their apartment, considering the pile of bags on the floor. Three big bags and a box of books stared back at them.
“Let's take it into the guest room,” Angelique said, “and then you can shower and rest. Tomorrow is a new day, as they say.”
Emma's face reflected horror. “He'll get out of jail tomorrow. What will I do?”
“He won't know that you live here.”
“But he knows that I work downstairs, in your bar.”
Angelique considered that, then said, “Let us handle that. Maurice and Laurie and I, we'll protect you.”
“He can get crazy sometimes.”
Angelique hugged Emma. “I can, too. Now go to bed. All will be well, I promise.”
A little later, Laurie lay in bed, pressed against Angelique. She listened to the shower stop, the door open in the hallway, and the guest room door close. “Angel?” she whispered.
In English, she said, “I'm worried about her.”
“She will be fine. We will make it so.”
“Yeah. We will, won't we?” She listened to Angelique's breathing, felt her chest rise and fall, and asked, “Do you want to talk some more?”
“No. Late. We sleep, huh?”
“Yeah. G'night. Love you.”
“I love you, also. Sleep well.” Angelique turned on her side. Laurie snuggled tightly against her back. It was comforting to Laurie having Angelique next to her, feeling her there, knowing that she would be protected and loved, and that she would protect and love in return. Angelique. Angel. Her angel. She thought back to her life before she'd met Angelique, and couldn't remember what it was like to be so alone in the world. She just remembered emptiness. She pressed herself even more tightly against Angelique's back and wrapped an arm around her waist to hold her. In reply, Angelique purred, and her hand covered Laurie's.
Then she thought of Emma, alone in their guest room. How desolate, how frightened she must be. How her boyfriend Jean could profess to care for her one moment and then beat her the next, Laurie couldn't comprehend. The world is full of bullies, she decided. Whether it's a militant killing innocent people or a boyfriend beating his girlfriend, the sickness is the same. Perhaps the cure is, too. She wondered if Angelique was serious about killing Jean; then, to her amazement, she decided that she wasn't repulsed by the idea. If the police found him lying face-down in an alley somewhere, she would not shed a tear for him.
The next noon, Angelique entered the apartment, dressed in her gym clothes. She placed a shopping bag on the counter and said in French, “Dinner. Enough for three.”
“Thanks, Angel,” Laurie said. She looked at Emma. “Are you hungry?”
Emma shrugged. “No. A little, perhaps.” She looked at Angelique. “Should I work tonight?”
Angelique sat down and pulled off her gym shoes as she thought about it. “Of course,” she said. “Why not?”
“What if he comes into the bar?”
“He's not welcome. We'll throw him out.” She cast a glance at Emma. “We'll protect you. He won't get you here.” She pointed around the apartment. “Metal doors. High-impact glass. And downstairs, you will be around people. You're safe there.”
Emma touched her cheek. “My face, though. I'm beaten and ugly. I look awful. People won't want to see me this way.”
“It's not so bad,” Angelique said. “You're a very pretty girl.”
“Yes,” Laurie added. “A face with a smile is always pretty.”
Emma managed a laugh. “You two are such liars,” she said. “Oh! I have to see my landlord.” She rested her head in her hands. “I'm not looking forward to that.”
“I'll shower,” Angelique said, “and I'll go with you. Everything will work out.”
Angelique sat at a table with Emma and the landlord, the apartment building owner. He was a middle-aged man with a tired, pleasant countenance about him. “I heard that you were having difficulties,” he said. At Emma's surprised glance, he explained, “Your neighbors heard the noise last night. They saw the police come.”
“Yes,” Emma said. “He got arrested.”
“Good,” the landlord said.
“He's going to get out of jail today,” Emma said, “and he will probably come here.” She shrugged. “He lost his job and had nowhere to go. I let him stay with me.”
“Your first mistake,” the landlord said. “The lease is very clear. Nobody stays here whose name is not on the lease.”
“I have to give up the apartment,” Emma said. “He knows where this is. I can't stay here.”
“Of course. Well, you broke the lease. For that, you must leave anyway. But you owe me for another month.” He tapped the lease, lying on the table. “One month owed, and you don't get your deposit back.”
“But he took my rent money,” she said. “I don't have anything. I can't pay you.”
“I really don't want to have to sue you,” the landlord said. “The contract is the contract, though. You signed. And it will cost me money to clean the apartment for the next tenant.”
Angelique could feel an aura of frustration radiate from Emma, and she leaned forward. “Perhaps I can suggest something,” she said. They both looked at her expectantly. Angelique patted Emma's arm, then directed her attention to the landlord and spoke in Hebrew. “We can make a deal?” she asked.
The landlord's face lit up. “You speak Hebrew?”
“I am Israeli.” She smiled. “As well as French.”
He leaned forward. “Then how can I refuse to listen? Talk to me.”
Emma sat in amazement as Angelique and her landlord conversed in Hebrew. Finally, they seemed in agreement, and Angelique produced a checkbook. She scribbled out a check, handed it to the landlord, and he beamed as he turned to Emma and spoke in French.
“Young lady, you're free and clear of this apartment. If I see this young fellow of yours, I'll call the police on him. He'll be trespassing. Good luck to you.” He shook a finger at her in a fatherly way. “And you be careful. Pick a nice man next time, eh?”
After they left, they walked up the street, a leisurely walk. Emma grasped Angelique's arm and held it tightly. “Thank you,” she said, “for whatever you did for me in there.”
“It wasn't much.”
“I know you paid him money,” she said. “I'll pay you back, every cent.” She looked at Angelique. “Did you pay him for the whole month?”
“No. I argued him down to a cleaning fee and a week's rent. He can clean the apartment in a few days, then rent it out again in a week. He won't be losing money.” She shot a pained glance at Emma. “I'm sorry that I couldn't get your deposit back, though.”
She shrugged. “That's okay. It's just money. And now I'm free.”
They turned the corner and headed toward Café Angel. “Not quite yet. We still have to deal with Jean.”
“We're going to look for him?” Emma asked.
“No. He'll come to us, I think.”
That evening, business was moderate at Café Angel. The coffee and drinks flowed, Maurice was in a good mood, and Laurie kept an eye on Emma as she hustled drinks and coffee to her booths. She seemed in good enough spirits, and her customers seemed happy.
During an interlude, Emma leaned against the bar next to Laurie; their backs were to the bar, and they kept their eyes on their customers as they listened to Angelique play the piano and sing.
“So, are you okay?” Laurie asked in French.
“Yes, yes.” Emma chuckled. “The tips are bigger than usual. Perhaps people feel sorry for me when they see my face, huh?”
“If it works, it works,” Laurie said. She glanced to her right when the little bell over the door rang, and her heart nearly stopped. It was Jean.
As he approached them, Maurice leaned across the bar. “Hey!” he said. “You're not welcome here. Get out.”
“I just want to talk to Emma,” he said. “It's none of your business, anyway.” He dismissed Maurice with a flip of the hand.
For a big man, Maurice was fast. In a moment, he was around the end of the bar and approaching Jean. The club which he kept beneath the bar was in his hand. “Get out of here!” he said.
Angelique's piano went silent. The conversations in the bar quieted, and customers' attention went to the scene playing out in front of them. Laurie looked left, then right. Maurice was approaching them from their left; Jean, from their right. She stood in the aisle, faced Jean, and held up a hand. “Get away from her!”
“Get out of my way,” Jean said. He pushed Laurie aside. “Emma, come here. I want to talk to you.” He watched her retreat toward the back of the bar. “Emma! Come here now.”
Maurice confronted him and waved the club in his face. “You're trespassing. Get out.”
“Or what?” Jean asked.
“Or this.” Maurice jammed the club into his stomach hard, and bent Jean over. He smacked Jean hard on the head with his club. Then, he grasped him by the seat of his pants and his collar and turned him toward the door. “Laurie?” he called out.
“Oh! I know this routine,” Laurie said. She ran to the door, opened it, and Maurice marched Jean to the door, then threw him outside. As the final insult, he planted a foot on Jean's butt and shoved him out into the street. He followed it with a warning to stay away as Laurie shut the door.
A second later, a paving cobblestone flew through the window and shattered it, then bounced off Laurie's forehead. She fell hard to the floor and, for a moment, didn't move. Then, she stirred a little and groaned. She had a fresh laceration over her eye, and blood began streaming across her face. Emma screamed.
A customer left his booth, knelt at her side, and leaned over her. Angelique appeared at her other side. “I'm a doctor,” the customer said, then looked toward the door. “Why don't you call the police on that fellow?”
“I'll do better than that,” she said. She stood, yanked the door open, and stepped into the street as the words ran through her head: I'll kill him with my bare hands. But Jean was not to be seen. She looked left, then right, searched the street carefully for any sign of him, but he was gone. She walked back into the bar and knelt next to Laurie. “How is she?” Angelique asked.
The doctor looked up. “Her neurological signs are good, but she's a little goofy. She's got a nasty laceration and probably a concussion. It's nothing to play with. I'd get her to the hospital right away.”
Emma knelt at Laurie's head and pressed a clean bar towel over the wound. She said, “Is Jean gone?”
“Yes,” Angelique said as she took Laurie's hand in her own.
“I'll clean up the glass,” Emma said. She rose and left.
Maurice came to her. “And I'll board the window before I go home,” he said. “It will be fine here, Boss. Take Laurie to the hospital, huh?”
“I'll bring the car around front.” She whispered a few reassuring words to Laurie, rose, and strode toward the back of the bar.
A few minutes later, she was driving Laurie to the hospital. “How do you feel?” she asked in English, as she twisted the Renault down a narrow street.
“I've been better,” Laurie said. She lowered the towel from her forehead and looked at the blood. “What the hell happened?”
“You don't remember?”
“That is usual,” Angelique said. “You got hit on the head with a brick.” She shifted gears, then lifted Laurie's hand back to her forehead and pressed the towel against the wound.
“I did? Who did that?”
Laurie was quiet for a moment, then asked, “What happened?”
Angelique smiled painfully, patted her on the leg, and said, “It is all right, Laurie. Just be still.”
“Oh. Okay.” She sighed, then asked, “What happened?”
That night, Angelique sat in the waiting room of the emergency clinic. She had flipped through every magazine twice, paced around the hall, and even drank a canned soda from the machine, but nothing helped sooth her anger and her concern for Laurie. Finally, she heard a voice call out, “Who is here for Laurie Caldwell?”
“I am.” Angelique stood and approached the nurse.
She eyed Angelique and said, “You are a relative?”
“I need next of kin. A family member.”
“She's American. I'm her family here, damn it.”
The nurse eyed her coldly. “Yes. Well, come. The doctor will speak with you both.”
She followed the nurse into the little curtained room where Laurie sat up on her gurney, her head wrapped in a bandage. A moment later, the doctor entered. “She has a concussion and a laceration, but nothing worse. You can take her home, but she's to rest. No work, no alcohol, no stress, for several days. We sutured the laceration. Bring her back here in a week or so to get them taken out.” He pointed toward her. “How did this happen?” As Angelique briefly explained the string of events, he listened. “It sounds like a tough bar,” he said. “Well, if she has headaches, give her this.” He scribbled a prescription, then handed it to Angelique. “And bring her back if you notice her acting strangely.”
The next morning, Laurie, Emma, and Angelique gathered around a pot of coffee at the kitchen table. Laurie had a bandage taped above her eye, hiding her laceration, but the green bruising covered half her forehead. “It's ugly,” she explained.
“Now we can be ugly together,” Emma said.
Angelique got right to business. “Emma, where would he stay, now that he can't stay with you?”
Emma thought, then brightened. “Oh. His cousin. Or his brother, perhaps.”
“Names. Addresses.” She placed a tablet and a pen in front of Emma. “Of everywhere he might be staying or working or spending time.”
Laurie watched as Emma thought about it and wrote down addresses, then looked at Angelique. “What are you going to do, Angel?”
“Find him.” She looked up when a knock sounded on the apartment door. “That must be the police. I called them. We need a report of this.” She shot Laurie an apologetic look. “Do you two feel like talking to the police again?”
Laurie shrugged. “Why not?”
Emma nodded, and Angelique rose and let in the police officer. It was the same one that responded to Emma's assault. She listened, took pictures, and asked questions. Then, she said, “We'll put a warrant out on him. He'll go back to jail if we can find him,” she said.
“And if you can't?” Angelique asked.
“Then he won't. But even if we catch him, we'll probably just book him for this new assault and the property destruction, then let him go until his trial date.”
“I understand,” Angelique said. She saw the officer out, then found her phone. She made two phone calls, both times speaking Hebrew. Then, she sat back at the table. “It will be over soon,” she reassured them.
Laurie studied Angelique's enigmatic expression. “Angel?” she said.
“What are you gonna do?” she asked, in English.
“Make him disappear.”
Laurie said, “Is that why you called Maurie and Esther?”
Their eyes connected, Angelique's hazel and Laurie's soft brown. “Do you speak Hebrew now?” Angelique asked.
Laurie smiled. “I'll just keep you guessing on that one.” She closed her eyes. “Ow! My head hurts,” she said in French.
Emma passed her the prescription bottle, and Angelique kissed her on top of the head. “Go rest,” she said. “Maurie and Esther will be here early this afternoon. Now, I have things to do downstairs. Emma, make her rest.”
Emma nodded as Angelique opened the back door and headed downstairs to the bar.
By that afternoon, Angelique had arranged for a glass company to repair the damaged door and called another server to work that night as delivery men stocked the bar with drink. Then, she turned to Maurice. “Go home until opening,” she said. “I may be in a little late tonight.” She raised an eyebrow. “There's something that I must, ah – deal with.”
“That something wouldn't have thrown a stone through our window last night, would he?”
In reply, Angelique smiled an enigmatic smile. Then, she tread the back stairs up to her apartment.
That afternoon, Emma looked around the table at a gathering of faces. She took comfort in Laurie's presence next to her. The conversation would be in English; Laurie or Angelique would translate for her. Next to her, Angelique sat, chatting in English with two newcomers: a young woman with short blonde hair and the bluest eyes she'd ever seen, and a man in, she guessed, his early forties, with a devil-may-care bravado about him and eyes which didn't miss a thing. Angelique seemed right at home with these two foreigners. Evidently, their friendship had gone back quite some time. Emma didn't know the details, but had heard rumors from another server that Angelique had a secret, unspoken past. This would be an interesting conversation, Emma decided.
Angelique turned to Emma and coaxed her to tell them about Jean. Everything, she said. All you know. Emma nodded and began speaking as Angelique translated sentence for sentence into English. His manner, his habits, his present whereabouts, all was described. Emma showed them a picture she had of her and Jean. Angelique passed out city maps with points marked on them, printed from her computer. Those were his possible hangouts. Angelique would scout some, Maurie and Esther would scout some, and Laurie was to stay home and call immediately if Jean came to the apartment door. Maurice would call if he came to the bar. When he was found, Angelique, Esther, and Maurie would converge on him and ‘deal with him'. Emma asked Laurie what the phrase meant, but Laurie would not explain it.
Angelique disappeared into the bedroom and emerged a few minutes later, dressed in jeans, her soft boots, and a jean jacket. She tugged a beret onto the back of her head, then withdrew a pistol from beneath her jacket. She screwed a silencer onto the barrel, stuffed a magazine into the handle, and slid the pistol into a shoulder holster beneath her jacket. As a final touch, she slid a long switchblade knife into her boot.
Maurie and Esther also had such weapons. Where they got them, Emma didn't know, and she decided that she didn't want to know. She also decided that she was glad that she had such friends at this time. She shot a questioning glance at Laurie, and Laurie merely smiled a tight little smile in reply. Then, after another whispered conversation in English, Angelique, Maurie, and Esther left. From the balcony door, Emma and Laurie watched as Maurie's black SUV and Angelique's boxy little red Renault left the side alley and headed in different directions.
“If they find Jean, what will happen to him?” Emma asked.
Laurie said, “Depends.”
“Are they going to kill him?”
“Probably not. Just scare him.”
“They scare me,” Emma said. “Where do they know each other from?”
“Come downstairs,” Laurie said. “I'll show you.”
Emma followed Laurie downstairs, and they went behind the bar. Laurie pulled a step-stool toward her, then climbed up and pulled a small framed picture from among many hanging on the wall behind the bar. She showed it to Emma. In it, Emma recognized Maurie and Angelique and Esther, all dressed in olive green army uniforms and sitting on a low stone wall. They looked younger; Angelique's hair was a little shorter, and Esther's hair was much longer and pulled into a pony tail, but it was them. She hung the picture back on the wall, then walked upstairs with Emma. Nothing more was said about the subject.
On the edge of a park, Jean waited. He lit a cigarette and smoked, keeping a nervous watch about him. After what seemed an endless amount of time, a man with a messenger bag over his shoulder approached him and gestured to a park bench. They sat, and the man spoke to him with accented French. He sounded like he was from eastern Europe or perhaps Russia or the Ukraine. He smoked as he talked.
“So, you want to work for us?” he asked.
“I want to work with you,” Jean replied.
“I understand that you were arrested recently.”
The man laughed, a curt little laugh. “Beating your girlfriend up? That's a misunderstanding? I hear that you have a warrant out on you. Assault and property destruction.”
“It always is.” The man studied Jean. “An outstanding warrant means that you'll be careful to avoid the police. That's good, especially if you're carrying our drugs.” He shot Jean a warning look. “We don't like to lose our drugs. It makes us unhappy.” He paused, then said very slowly, “Very unhappy.”
Jean swallowed hard. “I understand.”
“Then we'll get along fine. You do what I say, carry them where I say and give them to whom I say. And just in case you get into trouble, there's a pistol in the bag.” He dropped the strap of the messenger bag from his shoulder. “Use it to protect the drugs, or – ” He shot Jean a grim look. “If the police are about to get you, use it on yourself. If you live to go to jail, you won't live to get out. I'll make sure of that.”
“When do I get paid?” Jean asked.
“When the drugs are delivered. You take the money, deliver it to me, and I'll give you your fee. Then, you wait until we call you again.” He handed Jean a cheap prepaid cell phone.
“I don't know your name,” Jean said.
“Good,” the man replied. “Let's keep it that way. This is your first delivery. You take it to this address and give it to this person. Bring me back a thousand Euros. Do it today.” He handed Jean a written note, then rose and left, leaving the messenger bag on the bench next to Jean's hip.
Jean slipped the strap of the bag across his chest, then rose and headed toward a nearby café. He went into the bathroom. In the stall, he opened the bag. Neat blocks of plastic-wrapped drugs were inside the bag, along with a nickel-plated revolver. He lifted the gun and studied it. Its serial number had been filed off, and it was loaded. He tucked the gun into the back of his pants, pulled his shirt-tail over it, and left the stall. As he did, he looked at the note. He knew his destination well; it was a bar he sometimes frequented. It was about a thirty-minute trek. As his heart pounded, he began walking through busy Latin Quarter streets to make his first delivery.
Laurie's head hurt. She popped another pill, then settled herself on the couch with her cell phone handy, in case Jean showed up or Angelique called. Emma clicked the television on for her, turned it down low, and hugged her.
“I'm going to work now,” she said. “Maurice will be here any moment. You rest, yes? Rest, now. I don't want Angel angry with me because you're up and running around.”
“No running for me,” Laurie said. “Take care. And call if Jean comes around.”
“I will.” A moment later, Laurie heard the apartment's back door shut. Emma was on her way down the stairs to the bar. She sighed and put a cloth over her eyes, waiting for the painkiller to do its magic.
Angelique was having no luck. She didn't spy Jean anywhere, and the afternoon traffic was making her irritable. She flipped her cell phone open and speed-dialed Maurie. When he answered, she asked, “Are you having any luck?”
“No,” he replied. “We don't see him.”
“Me, neither. Keep looking.” Then, she hung up and headed toward the next place on her map.
Emma walked through the silent bar, noted the time, and put her apron on. As she tied it around her waist, she walked to the front door, raised the curtains over the windows, and flipped the sign over to “Open”. Then, she unlocked the door, turned, and walked toward the bar. “Where,” she wondered aloud, “is everybody?”
Jean turned a corner and found himself on Rue d'Espoir. Café Angel was just up the street, the café through whose window he'd thrown a paving stone just last night. He considered taking another street, then decided against it. He had nothing to fear from those bitches or that big bartender in the bar; he was armed, and he was a drug mule now. He had powerful people protecting him. Besides, those women were probably quite scared of him; after all, he'd shown them who was boss last night, hadn't he?
As he walked up the street, he looked at the time and wondered if Emma was there yet. The bar was just opening; she probably was. She would be there, and there were probably no customers yet. Perfect. He would talk to her, explain to her that he had work now, that he needed her and missed her, that he loved her, and she would melt and return to him. She was gentle and tender-hearted that way; he could manipulate her, appeal to her sympathetic nature. And if not that, he could bully her, threaten her, control her into returning to him. He knew that she was frightened of him. If he was strong, she could not deny him.
He saw the sign just above his head; Café Angel, 13 Rue d'Espoir. He peered into a window. Yes! There was Emma, and she appeared to be alone. And there were no customers. He grasped the door-handle and pushed; it was unlocked, and it opened to the tinkle of a little bell above the door. Emma, alone in the bar, looked toward the door, and she froze. A second later, she shrieked in fear, turned, and began running for the back stairs as she shouted Laurie's name. She didn't make it.
Laurie sat up on the couch. “What the hell was that?” she wondered, then rose and headed to the back door. She opened it a crack, and her blood froze at what she saw. She dialed Angelique's number, counted the rings, and said, “Come on, Angel. Pick up the damned phone.”
Jean was faster than Emma. He grabbed her by the arm, pulled her back from the stairs, and said, “Wait! I just want to talk.”
Emma screamed, “I don't want to talk to you. Get out of here. And get your hands off me.”
“Emma, look. Just listen, please.” He released her and held up his hands. “Just sit and listen, please.” He gave her his best puppy-dog expression, and she folded her arms across her chest.
“This had better be good.”
Oh, it will be, he thought. “Look, I've had a lot of time to think. I'm sorry. I won't hit you anymore. I miss you, Emma. I need you. I'll take good care of you, I promise. It won't be like before.”
She eyed him. “Bullshit,” she said. “I don't believe you.”
“It's true. I've got a job now. I make good money. I'll take care of you. We'll get a nice place to live together.”
“Bullshit,” she said again. “What job did you get?”
“I'm a courier for important people.” He patted the bag. “I'm working now.” He gave her his best ‘contrite' expression, paused for effect, and then said, “I love you, Emma. You're the world to me. Please, let's be together again. I don't want to live without you. What do you say, huh? You and me, again? Please, Emma. I need you. I love you. I won't ever hit you again, I promise.”
For a long, silent moment, she leaned against the bar, arms folded across her chest, studying him as he waited for her reply. Then, she gave her answer. “You're full of shit. Get out of here. I don't ever want to see you again, you asshole.”
She dismissed him with a rude gesture. “Talk to my ass; my head is sick.”
His face clouded in anger. He grabbed her arm. “Salope!” he shouted. “Bitch! Slut!”
“ Espece d'connard! ” she countered as she struggled against his grip. "Shithead! Bastard!"
Jean snapped. He backhanded Emma across the mouth, and she cried out in pain as she fell to her knees. He grabbed her by the front of her shirt, hauled her up from the floor, and threw her into a booth. “You little shit,” he said. “Do you think you're better than me? You belong to me, do you hear me? I own you.” He slapped her again, then dodged a kick from her. As they struggled, he pinned her legs with his body and held her wrists tightly. She was crying, shrieking, spitting blood at him, but he was overpowering her, and he smiled at that. He also felt himself becoming aroused by her resistance. He held her wrists with one hand, and with the other, began pulling at her belt buckle and at the snap on her jeans. She screamed again, and began crying.
Maurice walked toward Café Angel, a brisk walk. He was a little late; his two children had been fussing and fighting, as children do, and he had quelled the budding war before it went too far. He noted the time, then increased his pace. The café was just ahead; it wouldn't be so bad. And usually, there were no customers for the first hour or so.
Laurie ran into the bedroom, pulled open the drawer on the bedside table, and gasped. The pistol that Angelique usually secreted there was gone. She must have it. Laurie looked around, desperately searched her mind for another weapon, but could think of none. Then, she remembered the club that Maurice kept behind the bar. She tore open the back door; barefoot and in sweat pants and a t-shirt, she ran down the stairs toward the bar as she kept her eyes on the assault taking place in the booth.
Angelique hung up her cell phone, squealed her Renault around a tight corner, and headed toward Rue d'Espoir. She huffed at the traffic and cursed the red light, then turned left quickly when she saw stopped traffic ahead. If she could just avoid the worst of the traffic, she'd be there in a couple of minutes. She prayed that all would be well, but in her gut, she knew that bad things were about to happen.
“Damn it, Maurie! Come on!” Esther said.
“It's the damned traffic,” he said. “I can't go any faster.”
Esther huffed, then opened the door as they sat at a red light. “I'm going on foot. Join when you can.” He nodded, and Esther slid out of the SUV. She was glad that she'd worn running pants and shoes. She zipped her fleece vest to hide her pistol, then chose her direction and began running down the street, dodging cars and pedestrians. She estimated that she was three blocks away from Café Angel.
Emma was becoming exhausted. She struggled against him, but she couldn't shake him off. Her legs were pinned by his weight, and she felt him pulling her jeans open in the front. She kept screaming, crying, fighting, but he was stronger than her. She could feel his arousal, realized what he wanted, and she closed her eyes and turned her head away even as she kept fighting. She began screaming “Non! Non! Non!” as if it were a mantra, something that would magically ward him off. But, to her horror, the magic wasn't working. He was winning. Where the hell, she wondered, was everybody?
Laurie ducked behind the bar, ran to the money register, and found Maurice's club. Then, she climbed over the bar, jumped onto Jean's back, and brought the club down on the back of his head with all the strength that she possessed. She could feel the thud in her arm and hear his cry of pain. She hit him again, and he let go of Emma and turned. He shook her off, and their eyes met for an instant; in that instant, Laurie felt that she was looking into the eyes of a wild animal. The flood of sick fear almost made her vomit. She swung at him again, and caught him on the forehead. He staggered away from the booth, shook his head a few times, then charged her and grabbed her. Laurie struggled with him, but he pulled the club from her grip and threw her down to the floor, hard. It knocked the breath from her.
She looked up at him. He was standing over her. She kicked at him, cursed him, and watched him lift the club to strike her. A second later, Maurice's meaty fist hit him hard in the face, and he disappeared from her sight.
She sat up. Maurice's imposing bulk was between her and Jean. They faced each other cautiously, like two animals, each waiting for the other to attack. Maurice was bigger, but Jean held his club. That evened the odds.
As Laurie rose, she saw Emma slide out of the booth. She was behind Jean; he did not see her. She lifted a barstool and held it above her head, then brought it down on Jean's back. He stumbled, and Maurice grabbed his arm. They struggled over the club, and Maurice yanked it from his grip. A moment later, Jean stuck a nickel-plated revolver in Maurice's face.
“I'll kill you. Drop that club,” he said. Maurice put it down on the bar. “Now you, sit down in that booth.” He waved the gun, and Maurice followed his directions. Jean grabbed Laurie by the arm, jerked her up from the floor, shoved her toward the booth, and said, “You sit, too.” He looked around, keeping the gun pointed at Maurice and Laurie. “Emma! Where are you?”
Laurie and Maurice looked around the bar. Emma was nowhere to be found, and Jean was furious. “You'd better show yourself, Emma,” he shouted. “Or somebody's going to get hurt.”
Emma's head appeared above the bar. “Please, no! Jean, don't.”
He looked toward her, even as he kept the gun leveled at Maurice. “Come here. Now.”
Emma emerged from behind the bar and stood among the tables. “What do you want, Jean?”
“You know what I want! You're leaving with me.”
“No, I'm not,” Emma said.
“You belong to me. You're mine!”
“I don't belong to anyone, Jean,” Emma said. “Not to you or anyone.”
“I won't see you with someone else. Do you hear me?”
“Then don't look, if you don't want to see. Just go away and leave me alone.” She kept her eyes on him. “Please. Just go away.”
He turned the gun on Emma. “You can come with me, or I'll kill you.”
“Then shoot me. But I'm not coming with you.”
The front door opened, and the bell tinkled. Jean turned toward the sound, and Esther stopped just inside the door, her pistol in her hand. She aimed it, and a red laser dot hovered on his chest. He pointed his pistol at her, and they stood, very still, eyeing each other as the red dot danced on his chest. In English, Esther said, “Give me a reason. Please.”
In French, Laurie said, “She wants to know if you think you're a better shot than her, Jean.”
Emma stood aside, behind Jean, watching the stalemate. For a moment, no one moved. Then, a hand placed itself on Emma's shoulder. She looked around, and Angelique put a finger to her lips to indicate silence, then pointed to the bar. Emma understood; she crouched behind the end of the bar and watched as Angelique approached Jean and stood an arm's length behind him.
Angelique said, “Hello, Jean.”
He froze, then turned and looked at her. In the next second, he found himself lying on the floor as Angelique twisted the gun from his hand. She put a foot on his throat, twisted his arm almost to the point of dislocation, and said, “You're a real problem.” She considered the gun, then placed it on the bar. “What shall I do with you?” she asked.
“If you ever let me up,” Jean hissed, “I'll kill you.”
Angelique raised an eyebrow at the threat. “I doubt that.”
“I'm working. I'm a courier for important people. If I don't deliver on time, they'll be angry, and they'll come here.”
Esther holstered her pistol as she approached. She looked at Laurie and spoke in English. “What did he say?”
“He said that he was a courier. Messager ,” she said.
Esther knelt by him and opened his messenger bag. “A courier,” she said in English. “Let's see what he's carrying.” She peered inside, and her eyes widened. “Oh, Bat-Ami. He's got a lot of drugs here.” She reached beneath him and stripped the belt from his pants. Together, she and Angelique tied his hands behind his back with his belt as Maurice kept him immobile with a foot on his back.
Maurie trotted through the open door, joined the group, and said in English, “Sorry. Bad traffic.”
“We're just getting to the good part,” Angelique replied. She returned her attention to Jean and spoke in French. “We need to have a little talk, you and us. The garage is perfect. It's empty.” She leaned down and whispered, “No one will hear you scream in there.” She repeated the thought to her friends in English, and they lifted Jean and hustled him through the bar's alley door.
Laurie approached Emma. “Are you all right?” she asked.
“Yes. And you?”
Laurie smiled. “Always. Let's join them.” She lifted a clean bar towel from the bar, wrapped up Jean's gun in it, and handed it to Emma. “Go. I'll come along. I need shoes.” Laurie climbed the stairs to the apartment as Emma walked toward the alley door, not quite sure what she was about to witness.
She walked into the alley, and she saw there Maurie's black SUV and Angelique's red Renault. The side door on the garage was open, although the main door was closed. She entered and found Jean kneeling in the middle of the concrete floor as Maurie, Angelique, and Esther stood around him, pistols in hand, and whispered in English. Maurice stood against the wall, near the door; he pulled Emma aside and spoke to her.
“They're going to talk to him. We're to keep quiet and do nothing.”
Emma looked up at Maurice. “What will they do to him?”
“I suppose,” he said, “that it all depends on Jean.”
A moment later, Laurie entered. Maurice closed the door and stood in front of it. “We're all here,” he announced.
Angelique looked at Maurie. “Your interrogations are expert,” she said in English. “Would you care to do this?”
“My French is less than perfect, Angel,” he countered. “Please, do the honors.”
Angelique nodded, then turned to Jean and considered him for a long, silent moment. Finally, in French, the encounter began.
“What,” Angelique said, “should I do with you?”
“You'd better let me go,” Jean said. “I have an important delivery. If you interfere with it, you'll answer to my boss.”
“Hm.” She knelt in front of him and looked at him, eye-to-eye. “Who is that?”
“I don't know his name.”
“Then how do you talk with him?”
“It's in my shirt pocket,” he said.
Angelique lifted it from his shirt pocket. It was a cheap little prepaid cell phone. She pushed some buttons, then said, “Only one number is programmed into it. Is that him?”
“Nice fellow, huh?”
“A total badass. You won't like crossing him.”
“I'm not going to cross him. You are.”
“Hell, no!” Jean said.
Angelique studied the phone, then looked at Jean. “I'm going to give you a choice in what happens to you. Are you listening?” She watched him nod his head. “So, we can give you to the police. After all, you have a warrant outstanding, and you have a bag full of your boss's drugs and an illegal gun.”
“Are you crazy?” Jean said. “If the police catch me, my boss will kill me in jail.”
Angelique smiled. “Or...we can just throw your drugs into the sewer and put you out onto the street. Your boss will find you, I'm sure.”
“I'll bring him straight here. You'll regret it.”
“True – if he believes your story about someone just throwing thousands of Euros' worth of drugs away. More likely, he'll think you did something with them. Or...” She watched his expression as she teased him with another option. Finally, she said, “Or you make yourself disappear.” She eyed him. “Forever.”
“Maybe I don't want to disappear. Maybe I like it here.”
“Fine,” Angelique said as she stood. “Then we will make you disappear. And believe me, we're very good at it.” She smiled, a thin, hard smile. “And you won't like it.”
Jean looked around him; two women and a man stood, looking down at him. All three had pistols, and all three had hard eyes, expressions that hinted that they could do that. “Who are you?” he asked.
“We're Emma's friends,” Angelique said. “We have a very old saying; an eye for an eye. We're very good at justice. If you hurt us – and you have – we'll hurt you back.”
“You're all crazy.”
“No. We're deadly serious.” Angelique looked around. “Since you don't want to choose, perhaps Emma could choose for you. After all, she suffered at your hands more than anyone else. Emma?”
Emma walked forward. She stood next to Angelique, and she stared down at Jean. Their eyes met, and Jean said, “Emma! You know that I never meant to hurt you. For the love of God, get me out of here. They'll listen to you.” She just stared at him, and his voice rose in exasperation. “Emma! You know that I love you! Get me out of this!”
“No,” she said. She looked at Angelique. “I'm done with him. Do with him what you will. I don't want to know.” She looked back at Jean. “Good-bye, Jean.” She handed Jean's gun to Esther, then turned and walked out of the garage.
“Emma! Emma!” he shouted as she left. When the door closed, he seemed to wilt.
Angelique contemplated Jean, kneeling before her. “Jean?” she said. He looked up. She lifted her pistol, cocked it, tightened the silencer on it, and placed the muzzle against his forehead. He went pale, and his eyes widened. He began to sweat. “Say good-bye.”
“All right!” he said. “What do you want from me?”
“We want you gone forever,” Angelique said. “If we do it, the police will find you somewhere tomorrow with my bullet in your head and a bag of drugs on you. If you make yourself disappear, then your destiny is in your own hands.”
“How?” he asked.
“How does the delivery happen?” Angelique asked.
“I take the drugs to a name and address. They pay me, then I bring the money to my boss. He gives me my cut.”
“And that's it?”
“How much is your cut?”
“Thirty percent. You can have it all if you just let me go.”
“I don't want it. I want you gone,” Angelique said. “Here's the plan. You make your delivery. Then, you go get paid. You go to wherever you're living and pack your bag. Then, you call us. We take you to the train station, and you get a one-way ticket to a place very far away. I don't care where. We watch you get on the train and leave town. And if we ever see you in Paris again or near Emma again, you're a dead man. Agreed?”
“Yes, yes. Agreed.”
Angelique holstered her pistol. “Stand up.” Jean rose to his feet, and they exited the garage and stood in the alley. She yanked the belt from his hands and threw it at him. “Now go,” she said. “And call the bar telephone when you get paid. If you don't call, I'll hunt you down and kill you. I promise you that.”
“I need my phone and my gun,” he said.
“Then it's no deal,” Jean said.
“All right.” She looked at Maurie and motioned. He shoved the barrel of his pistol beneath Jean's chin and backed him against the wall. Angelique keyed Jean's cell phone and listened to it ring. Jean's expression was one of horror.
“What in the hell are you doing?” he asked.
When the phone answered, Angelique said, “Is this the person who has Jean carrying his drugs? Never mind who I am. Jean is going to steal your drugs from you. He's leaving town with them... on the train. He told me to tell you that you're a moron, and to fuck off.” Then, she hung up and thrust the phone into his shirt pocket.
“You God-damned crazy bitch!” he yelled. “I'm a dead man.”
“Yes,” Angelique said. “I suppose you'd better get out of town right away.” She smiled. “Do you want a ride to the train station?” She waved a hand. “No, on second thought, I don't want you in my car. You've got drugs on you.” She raised an eyebrow. “A lot of drugs.”
“Give me my gun,” Jean said.
“No,” Angelique replied. “You'd better hurry. I'm sure that your boss is very angry with you just about now.”
Maurie stood back. Jean stared at the people surrounding him, then turned and ran toward the street. He disappeared around the corner. A moment later, they heard the sound of breaking glass. They ran to the street and looked, but saw no Jean. He was gone, and another front window in Angelique's bar was smashed.
“I really must get high-impact glass,” Angelique mused, then pulled her cell phone from her pocket. “We are almost done,” she said in English.
“What's left?” Maurie asked.
“Yes, Bat-Ami,” Esther echoed. “What's left to be done?”
“The police are going to get tired of hearing from me.” Angelique keyed her cell phone and spoke in French. “This is Mlle. Halevy, owner of Café Angel. Jean Hallot just came by and caused trouble here. He broke another window. He's got an outstanding warrant on him, also. I fought with him in the bar, but he dropped a gun as he left. I think he's carrying a lot of drugs on him, and I think he's headed toward the train station.” She listened, then said, “No, he didn't say which one. Probably the closest to Rue d'Espoir, though. He's trying to leave town very quickly, he said.” She hung up, then said in English, “There. Done. Shall we go to work now? I have to pay for a new front window.”
As they walked toward the alley door to the bar, Laurie told Esther about Angelique's last telephone call. Maurie snickered. “That's very clever, Angel. If one side doesn't get him, the other side will.”
“Yes!” Esther said. She kissed Angelique's cheek. “That's Bat-Ami, always thinking.”
“Angel,” Laurie said, “you're a gem. I'll tell Emma that she doesn't have to worry any more.”
That evening, business was good. The bar was nearly full of patrons, familiar faces who came to relax and drink and laugh and listen to music. The old and the young, students, workers and retired, they all found a place at Café Angel this evening. Angelique shone at the piano, and Maurice slid drinks and coffees, one after another, across the bar to patrons and to the servers, the ‘bar-girls', as they called themselves.
Laurie noticed that Emma seemed particularly light-spirited. She was smiling a lot and joking with her customers as she deftly dodged her way between her tables, her tray full of coffee and drinks.
Maurie and Esther had planted themselves at the bar and were sending song requests to Angelique on a regular basis, along with shots of amaretto. Claire, Esther's lover, joined them, and the three of them kept up a flurry of running jokes and jibes in English which Claire would translate for Maurice's benefit.
Laurie finally wormed herself between Maurie and Esther and said, “You guys need to knock off the amaretto shots. Angel's getting hammered, I think.”
“Oh?” Maurie said. “That's a problem?”
“Yeah. She's working.”
“She's doing beautifully. The audience is in love with her. Listen to her.” Esther slipped an arm around Laurie's shoulders. “And she won't be working all night,” she said. She explained to Claire and Maurie, “Angel gets very... adventuresome ...when she drinks. Isn't that right, Laurie?”
Laurie felt her cheeks heat with blush. “Okay, you guys. Carry on. Forget I said anything,” she said as she left the trio. At the round of hearty laughter from the bar, she rolled her eyes. “Jeez. Does everybody know about that?”
“By the way,” Esther called after her, “you look very good on the internet.”
Laurie replied with a “Shaddup!” and a grin as she lifted her tray of drinks from the bar. As she turned around, one of her customers smiled at her, wished her good-night, and dropped a twenty-Euro note on her tray. “For you,” she said.
“Oh!” Laurie's face lit up. “Merci beaucoup!”
Her companions all laughed, and the lady replied, “Yes. Not bad for forty years old, hey?” as she left the bar. Laurie noted some of the patrons looking at her, and she turned to Maurice. He was busting a gut laughing.
“Maurice! What did I just say?”
Claire leaned closer to Laurie. “You said, ‘Merci, beau cul' . ‘Thanks, nice bum'.”
“Oh, Jeez.” Laurie rolled her eyes, then retorted, “Well, she did have a nice bum.” She headed to her tables, and made a mental note to have Angelique drill her on her pronunciation – tomorrow.
Laurie had to smile as she looked across the room. Angelique was at the piano, and she struck the first chords of an old, familiar song. When she began singing, Laurie could hear a soft undercurrent of voices in the bar sing with her. Yes, she thought. It was going to be a rockin' night. She could feel it in her bones. They'd pay for those front windows tonight, and then some.
When the last notes of Angelique's song died away, a voice in the bar cried, “ Milord! ” Applause and cheers rang through the bar. In reply, Angelique teased her customers with a few seconds of silence. She looked around the bar; then, she struck a note to find her pitch. The bar fell silent in anticipation; then, she began singing. The first two bars were slow, but the song quickly rose in tempo, and the piano stirred the entire bar to sing and clap in sympathy with her. A timeless song, it was; and even the great Edith Piaf would have been proud to have heard her song so rousingly shared in that bar, on this night.
Allez, venez, Milord
Vous asseoir à ma table
Il fait si froid, dehors
Ici c'est confortable...
Laurie threaded her way between customers and tables, her tray held high above her head with one hand, singing along with the bar as she served drinks. At her tables, Emma did the same, swaying her hips in time to the music as she negotiated her way between tables. Periodically, the song would slow; Angelique would sing the leisurely, touching verses with a husky, emotional voice as the bar quieted. Then, she would stir the bar to delight again as she sang the rousing chorus. The piano pounded, hands clapped, and everyone's voices rose, joined together in the melody, with the bar-girls and Maurice leading the cheer.
At the piano and microphone, Angelique lost herself in the song. The amaretto buzz didn't hurt either, she decided, but she felt particularly good tonight. A bad situation had been resolved, and Emma was safe again. Laurie was healing and felt good enough to work. And Jean would reap the rewards of his own sick nature. It was manifest justice, she decided, and it was a justice that she didn't have to kill anyone to achieve. God knew that she was tired enough of death and killing. The innocent of the world die in herds; the evil, one at a time, it seemed. And for a time, it was her job to make the evil, the ‘rabid dogs' of the world, die. Now, it was someone else's job. She would play her beloved music, she would love Laurie, she would just do what kindnesses she could for those around her as she lived out her life here, in Paris. For her, any more, that was enough. Milord said it all:
Come into my kingdom:
I heal remorse,
I sing romance,
I sing about milords who are unlucky!
In the darkness of the early morning, Angelique sat up in bed. She concentrated on relaxing her breathing, allowing her heart rate to slow down, then swung her legs over the side of the bed.
When she returned from the bathroom, Laurie was sitting up in bed. “Again?” she asked in English.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
Angelique considered that, then nodded. “I think...yes.” She looked at Laurie. “It helps.”
“I'm glad. Okay,” Laurie said. “Tea, or something stronger?”
Angelique watched Laurie rise and slip a nightgown over her body as she left the bedroom. A moment later, Angelique found her robe, wrapped herself in it, and followed. As they nestled down on the living room sofa, Laurie handed a glass of wine to Angelique, then leaned against her side. “Okay,” she said. “Start talking any time you feel ready. I'm listening.”
“Thank you,” Angelique said. She wrapped an arm around Laurie and kissed her forehead. After a minute of organizing her thoughts, she began narrating the next leg of her story.
The Gaza Strip, 2003 .
As Angelique walked, she kept her eyes on the windows of the buildings, the flat roof-tops, the doors. She was in a line of Israeli paratroopers entering a village on the outskirts of Bayt Hanun, source of some of the Qassam missile launches. Hamas had taken to launching their missiles from the midst of populous areas, knowing that the Israelis always shot back. And when they did, the death and injury of innocent civilians always occurred. ‘Collateral damage' was the polite term. The reality was the mangled, bloody bodies of women and children, the destroyed homes, the Palestinian men passionately grieving in front of world news cameras, the condemnations from human rights groups and the United Nations. It's odd, Angelique wondered, that when a Qassam missile hits a Jewish school or a Jewish home, no one raises voices of condemnation.
So here we are, she thought. We don't drop a bomb anymore; we send in the infantry to find them and kill them, eye-to-eye. And we're the infantry.
She felt the sweat run down her uniform shirt beneath her body armor. It was getting hot, and in the village, the buildings blocked most of the cooling breeze. Her soldier's attire was a familiar burden by now; the vest and helmet, the radio, the ammunition and grenades, the sniper's rifle slung across her back, the short automatic weapon in her hands, its barrel following the path of her eyes as she constantly looked left and right, up and ahead, and down at her feet, on constant alert for danger. And danger was here. She could taste it. The Hamas militants would hit them. It was just a question of when and how. The thought made her gut knot, made it hurt, and made her heart rate rise.
She halted when Moshe, the front man, or ‘point', signaled caution. The soldiers, dispersed along the sides of the street, crouched, weapons ready, and waited. Angelique trotted to Moshe and knelt beside him. “What?” she asked, in Hebrew.
“There,” he said. “The village center. It's big enough to hold Qassams. And look at that truck parked there. Look beneath it.”
“Yes,” Angelique said. She scanned it with her binoculars. “It's over a pit. There's Qassam launching rails beneath the truck, I'd guess. They're getting sloppy.”
“I don't like it,” Moshe said. “Bad set-up. It's an ambush waiting to happen.”
Angelique saw the open village center, the well, the truck, the flat roof-tops and the windows. It was too quiet. Where were the women going to the well with their water buckets, the children playing in the street? No one was out. She keyed her radio, reported, and asked for armor backup. The fifty-caliber machine guns on the armored vehicles would tear this village up, rip holes in walls, go through doors, keep the militants' heads down while the infantry did its job.
“No armor available,” her lieutenant replied. “Units are in place south of the village. Move in now.”
“Man,” Moshe said. “We're going to get fried, Angel.”
“Then we do the unexpected. We ambush the ambush. Let's go to the roof-tops, not through the street. Take possession of these houses, and we'll get to the roof-tops from there.”
“I like it,” Moshe said. Angelique stood and issued instructions via her radio, and the soldiers on both sides of the street began kicking open doors and entering houses. In a few minutes, they'd occupied a couple of houses bordering the village center, on either side of the street.
Angelique entered the closest house. It had a view of the square from two windows. She waved in a machine gun team and put them at a window, then turned and studied the house's occupants. A old man, a couple of women, and their children were clustered in a corner, at the point of a paratrooper's rifle. They were frightened. She saw the eyes, saw the fear in the faces, and said in Arabic, “Calm down. It will be all right.” She pointed to the ceiling. “Door?” she asked.
The man said something and pointed toward the back room. Angelique entered, saw the ceiling trap door, and climbed the ladder to it. She cracked the hatch, peered around the roof, and crawled out. A short time later, Moshe and perhaps a dozen other soldiers lifted themselves, one at a time, onto the roof. They stopped at a low wall and she looked over it, at the square below. All was silent. The air was hot, thick, pregnant with the promise of bad things happening. All right, she thought. If it's to happen here, it will happen here.
She rose, waved at her comrades, and whispered, “Follow me.” Then, they began running across roof-tops, leaping over the low walls surrounding them, crouching, keeping their eyes and ears and gut feelings tuned to a near, silent enemy as they leapfrogged along the tops of the buildings surrounding the square.
Angelique had just crouched in a roof-top corner when she heard the bang and hiss of an RPG launcher. A trail of white smoke followed the grenade as it whirred through the square and hit the front wall of the house she'd originally left. The machine gun began clattering in reply, and the cacophony of AK-47 rifles began filling the square. Angelique shouted, “Clear these houses!”
Moshe pulled the pin on a grenade, cracked open the nearest roof-top door, and tossed it inside. It banged, and he threw the hatch open and began descending the ladder. Halfway down, he began shooting. Angelique waved her comrades forward, and watched them leap and run over roof-tops toward the other side of the square. She could hear the muffled bangs of the paratroopers' grenades as they methodically cleared houses on both sides of the square, attacking from the roof-top doors. The militants had expected them to enter the square by the street. They were not prepared for the roof-tops. She felt a grim satisfaction in the knowledge that she had gained the initiative. She was determined to keep it.
Moshe returned to the roof-top a moment later. “Two men, dead. No civilians, Angel.”
“Good. Stay with me.”
She peered over the roof-top's low wall. In the street below, she could see a cluster of men, many with the black-and-white checkered keffiyeh head-cloths and all armed with AK-47's or RPG launchers. One seemed to be in charge; he was shouting and gesturing. She hung her automatic weapon by her waist, unslung the sniper rifle, and sighted on him. She knew the drill by instinct; slow the breathing, concentrate, gently squeeze the trigger. The rifle kicked; the man's chest sprayed blood over his comrades, and he fell.
She rammed the rifle's bolt back and forth, then chose the man with the RPG next. One second, he was screaming something; the next, he lay in a contorted pile in the dirt, bleeding into the street. She chose the next one simply because he was nearest the square. Her bullet pounded him into the wall, where he slid down to the dirt and lay still. His companions began running south, away from the square. She keyed her radio.
“At least eight of them, coming south on the main road.”
At the affirmative reply, she hooked her radio to her side, then turned around. At that moment, Moshe's forehead exploded, covering the side of her face and chest with bits of blood and bone and brain. He collapsed on top of her, and she felt bullets tug into his body armor – and his body – as she registered the very close, ear-straining pop-pop-pop of an AK-47. She tried to respond, but she was in shock, frozen, with the weight of Moshe's body on top of her. Slowly, she wormed her hand beneath her and pulled her pistol from its holster. The roof-top door flew back with a bang. Male voices in Arabic sounded as footsteps crunched across the roof-top. They were close, a couple of meters away. She thrust her pistol beneath Moshe's arm and pulled the trigger, kept pulling it until it clicked impotently, then shoved Moshe's shoulders aside. An Arab man lay dead on the roof. The roof-top door slammed shut. He was right behind us, she thought. He shot Moshe in the back of the head, right through his helmet, from that door. She rolled Moshe's body off of her, rose, and reloaded her pistol as she approached the hatch. Then, she holstered it, clicked the safety on her automatic weapon to ‘off', and stood over the hatch.
She pulled a grenade from her belt, pulled the pin, and lifted the hatch with the toe of her boot. She dropped it in, then stood back. A bang shook the roof-top, and she threw back the hatch and descended the ladder, looking around her. Wails of fear and the sound of children crying came from a back room. A couple of bodies were crumpled on the floor, and the walls were pocked with grenade fragments. The bodies were male. They had weapons. She shot the bodies once more, then paused before entering the door to the back room. She felt her gut knot, and she heeded the warning.
In that room, a male voice in Arabic was demanding silence, and a couple of children were crying. A female voice wailed, and the male voice hushed her. He was in there, Angelique decided. He was in there with at least one woman and her children. And his rifle was almost certainly pointed at the door where she would enter.
“Come out,” she said in Arabic. “Come out, hands up.”
In answer, she got a curse and several rounds fired into the wall near her. Her hand instinctively went to the grenade on her belt. It would be so easy, she thought, to do it this way. But there's a mother and her children in there, and he's the only one that needs to die today. She looked around for an alternative, then noted the open windows. She slipped out of one and stepped into the alley, then slid along the wall to the next window. Sure enough, there he was; checkered keffiyeh , AK-47, and his back was to the window. Very carefully, she clicked the selector switch on her weapon to ‘semiautomatic'. She lifted it, sighted on the back of his head, and pulled the trigger.
The bang was deafening in the small room. Blood peppered the wall, and the man fell forward. The woman screamed, and the children began shrieking and cowering into the corner, worming themselves into their mother's arms. Angelique leaned into the window and shot him twice more in the back, then trotted around the house and entered by the door. She kicked it open, stepped over the bodies and pools of blood in the first room, and entered the second room. In Arabic, she called out, “You're safe now.”
The reply was the bark of an AK-47, and the smack of a bullet into the wall next to her ear, spraying her with a cloud of dust and hunks of plaster and stone. The dead militant's weapon was pointing at her, held in the hands of the woman. Angelique stood in shock, staring, as the weapon shook in the woman's hands, as the barrel of her own weapon pointed at this mother and the children huddled behind her back. She knew that she should pull the trigger, but she could not. The image of the smoking AK-47's barrel pointing at her, shaking in that mother's hands; the eyes of those children, the woman's face circled by the hijab – the black eyes, wide with fear; her own weapon, leveled at a frightened mother and her wailing children – it was a scene which would never leave her, which burned into her memory so deeply, so painfully, that should she live to be a hundred and twenty years old, it would remain as clear a vision to her as it was on that instant.
For what seemed an eternity they remained so, staring at each other with time suspended; Jew and Arab, each with the power to kill the other, smoking weapons pointed at each other. Then, a realization struck Angelique, hit her with the force of a fist: This moment counted. What she chose to do now would define her for the rest of her life. It would follow her, it would break her or validate her. She would live or she would die forever in the next three seconds.
She lowered her weapon, let it hang against her side, snapped open her helmet chin-strap, and pulled the helmet from her head. She ran a bloody hand through her collar-length hair, then said simply in Arabic, “Enough. You are not my enemy.”
The woman's eyes widened even further. “You...you are a woman?” she asked.
“But you fight...like a man. You are a soldier. You are Israeli. You hate us. You slaughter us. You bomb us.”
“I do not kill women and children.” She pointed at the dead man on the floor. “He does.”
“You will not kill us? We...we are safe?”
“May you live a long life, Insha'Allah ,” Angelique said.
Angelique held out her hand, and the woman allowed her to ease the AK-47 from her grip. Then, she turned and walked to the door. Before she left the room, she looked back. The woman and her children were watching her, wide-eyed. Angelique said, “ Assalam alaykum. ” May peace be upon you.
“ Wa alaykum assalam . May Allah bless you,” she whispered, “for not killing my children.”
To that, she had no answer. She left the room, tossed the AK-47 into the street, fastened her helmet onto her belt, and climbed the ladder to the roof. Moshe's body lay where she had left it, next to her sniper rifle. She scanned the street as she slung her rifle across her back, noted the street free of targets, and saw Israeli soldiers. The fight was over, at least for the moment.
She slung Moshe's weapon across her chest, then lifted his body beneath the arms and pulled him across the roof. Slowly, she lowered him down the slanted ladder, a rung at a time, until he lay at her feet between the bodies of two Arab men. Then, she grasped him beneath the arms and began pulling him toward the door.
“Your husband?” a female voice asked in Arabic.
Angelique looked up. It was the mother. The children were gathered behind her, watching in fascination and fear.
“No,” Angelique said. “He was my friend.”
With that, she dragged him through the door and into the street. There, she laid him down, placed his weapon on his chest, and knelt in the dirt by his body. For some time, she considered him silently as she held his hand, studied the wedding band on his finger, remembered the face of his wife, remembered how excited he was to learn that she was pregnant. Then, she rested his hand on his chest and said, “Good-bye, Moshe.”
She stood and strode down the street, seeking the rest of her squad. She had done all that she could for Moshe; the medics would pick him up now, his wife would get a visit from an army officer, and Angelique would attend the funeral. She would help bear the coffin, draped in the blue and white flag of Israel; they would lower his coffin into the ground; and as Moshe's wife clutched the Israeli flag to her chest, Angelique would offer hollow, inadequate words of sympathy to her. And as she did, she knew that she would see the unspoken question form in his wife's eyes: Why wasn't it you instead of him?
And she knew that she would have no answer, other than: I don't know. It should have been me.
As she walked down the street, the Arab woman's words echoed in her head, in her soul: May Allah bless you for not killing my children.
“Damn, Angel. I don't know what to say.” Laurie rested her head against Angelique's shoulder, felt Angelique's cheek warm against her forehead.
“Do not say anything. It is enough that you want to listen.”
“Do you feel better now?”
“Yes,” Angelique said. “I think so.”
“Good. Do you think that maybe you can sleep?”
Together, they rose and entered the bedroom. The door softly closed. In the darkness, Laurie and Angelique shed nightgown and robe and slipped into bed. Laurie snuggled against Angelique's side, felt the warm smoothness of her skin, rested her hand on Angelique's belly.
“G'night. Love you.”
“I love you, also.”
Angelique lay in silence for a while, thinking. Then, she whispered, “Laurie?”
“Why do you love me so? After this story, I would think...”
Laurie leaned up on one elbow, her face just above Angelique's face. Her hair brushed Angelique's cheek. “I love you more than ever.”
“I'm alive today because of you. That woman and her children are alive because of you. Emma's safe because of you.” Laurie traced her fingers along Angelique's cheek.“You really are a noble person, and I love that in you. And until you believe that too, you won't rest well.” Laurie settled down in bed and pressed herself against Angelique's side. “Now go to sleep, will ya? I'm beat.”
Angelique lay in bed, feeling Laurie against her side, considering her words. Then, she said, “Laurie?”
“You look good on the internet. Very sexy.”
Laurie laughed. “Angel?”
“Kiss my ever-lovin' ass!”
In the guest room, Emma awoke. She lay in bed, in the dark, and listened to howls of laughter coming from Angelique and Laurie's bedroom. She smiled as she turned on her side. It must be nice, she thought, to be so in love, to get along so well. But to be in the room next to such lovers, it must be nice...to have earplugs.
A few days later. ..
Angelique closed her eyes and allowed her hands to play Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata by memory, by the feel of the piano's keyboard. The mournful minor chords, the simple but poignant melody always spoke to her and seemed to wrap itself around her like a warm blanket. A masterpiece of complexity and simplicity in the same composition. Then, she opened her eyes. The bar was closed; it was early afternoon. As was her custom, she often practiced her music at this time of day.
She stopped playing. For some reason, the sonata seemed, at the moment, too melancholic, too reflective. She wanted something happy, something that lifted the spirit and stirred the soul. She smiled, then tapped out the first bars of a Scott Joplin rag. Bouncy, bright, happy; a reflection of the era that it so represented. She smiled to think that the composer had been the piano player in a brothel; perhaps, in a previous life, she had been, as well. She recalled the line in an old American cowboy movie: Don't shoot me – I'm just the piano player.
She concentrated on the rag, and when it ended, heard applause from the stairs behind her. On the bottom stairs, Emma sat, with Laurie sitting just above her, on the next step.
“Magnifique!” Emma said.
“Kickin'!” Laurie added, in English.
Emma rose and approached the piano. “May we speak?” she asked.
“Of course.” Angelique scooted over on the bench. “About what?”
“I, ah...” Emma seemed shy as she sat down. “I wanted to thank you for all you did for me.”
Angelique shrugged. “It wasn't much.”
“But it was,” Emma said. “You saved my life, I think. He was crazy. He might have killed me. And you helped me with my landlord and paid him money and you're letting me stay in your guest room until I can get myself together – ”
“It's my pleasure,” Angelique said. She gestured toward Laurie. “Our pleasure. You're very dear to us.”
“I just wanted to say – what I mean to say is – you're a good soul. Thank you so much.” Impulsively, she hugged Angelique and kissed her on both cheeks, then turned and ran up the stairs to the apartment.
Laurie was sitting on the steps. “See?” she said, in English. “You're a good soul. I've known it all along.” She stood, walked to the piano and sat in Angelique's lap. Her arms snaked around Angelique's neck, and their lips touched. It was a leisurely, tender kiss, warm with familiar affection. Laurie combed back Angelique's hair with her fingers and said, “Your hair's getting longer. I like it that way.”
“For you, Laurie.”
Laurie displayed an impish smile. “I'll bet you can't guess what I want to do right now.”
Angelique pointed toward the ceiling. “Security camera. And upstairs, we have a house guest.”
“Darn it.” Laurie thought, then brightened. “Oh, hey! Why don't we give Emma money and let her shop for dinner? That will give us a little private time.”
“A good idea.”
“I'll let you know when the coast is clear.” Laurie jumped off of Angelique's lap and trotted up the stairs.
Ten minutes later, she handed Emma forty Euros and a shopping list. Emma slipped on a sweater and opened the back door, then bounced down the stairs to the bar. She passed Angelique at the piano, waved, and spoke in a cheery voice. “I'm going shopping for our dinner. I'll get a coffee at the bakery, too, so you'll have plenty of time for sex.” She shot Angelique a laughing smile, then closed the bar door behind her.
Angelique rolled her eyes. Was nothing secret? She rose, closed the keyboard cover on the piano, and walked up the stairs to the apartment. Halfway up the stairs, her cell phone rang.
In the bedroom, Laurie shed the last of her clothes and pulled down the quilt on the bed. She heard the back door open and close and heard Angelique's voice. She was talking to someone. What is this? she thought. Angelique had better not be yakking on the phone right now. She leaned into the hall and looked. Angelique was speaking on her cell phone as she walked down the hall.
“Come on, Angel!” Laurie called. “The clock's ticking. If you're not in here and naked in thirty seconds, I'm starting without ya.”
Angelique walked into the bedroom. She held out the phone. “Laurie, say ‘hello' to your sister in America.”
From the phone, Laurie could hear her older sister's laughter. “Is that you, little Sis? You are so busted! I heard everything you said. Wait ‘till I tell Mom! Are you naked?”
Laurie lifted the phone from Angelique's hand and spoke into it. “Allie?” she said. “What's this? You're calling my girlfriend and not me?”
“I called your phone first, but you didn't answer. I can see why, now!”
“It's on silent.” She added, “For obvious reasons.”
Allie laughed. “Are you sure it's not on ‘vibrate' instead?”
“Oh, that's just wrong!” Laurie said as she watched Angelique close the bedroom door. “So, what's up? And make it fast. I'm watchin' Angel get undressed here.”
“Damn, Laurie. I thought it was like, two o'clock there.”
“Oh. A little afternoon delight, huh?”
“Shaddup. Talk fast.”
“Okay. Just wanted to tell you that I'm all done here in Kansas, and I'm flying back to Paris in a week. For good!”
“Cool!” Laurie said. “Pick you up at the airport?”
“Maurie will. God, I so miss that guy. But how's about dinner that night, the four of us?”
“Yeah. You got it! Okay, big Sis. Gotta go. Angel's almost naked. Love you! ‘Bye.”
“Eww! Too much information. Love you, little Sis. ‘Bye.” The call disconnected.
Laurie put the phone on the bedside table, then crawled onto the bed next to Angelique. She said, “So, where were we before we were so rudely interrupted?”
Angelique's expression brightened. “We were about to play chess?” She pointed toward the bedroom door. “I will just get the chess-board.”
“Too late!” Laurie said. She threw herself on top of Angelique, and they fell in a tangle onto the center of the bed. “I win! I'm already jumpin' the queen!”
“Laurie, you are a bad girl!”
The next morning, Angelique descended the back stairs to the bar. Maurice had just arrived, and the coffee-pot was hot. He poured them both a cup, and they waited for the delivery men to arrive with the liquor. Maurice clicked on the television above the bar and turned on a news channel.
They talked as they sipped their coffee, and paid only passing attention to the news. Then, Maurice set down his cup and tapped Angelique on the arm. He pointed toward the television. A news reader was speaking.
“This morning, in response to an anonymous tip, the police found a body in the Seine River. He was identified as Jean Hallot, a known petty criminal. He had been shot once in the back of the head. The police suspect a drug-related killing.” A photograph of Jean flashed onto the television screen. “If anyone knows anything about the shooting, they are requested to call the police immediately. Now, in the financial news...”
Maurice lowered the sound. “This may go hard on Emma,” he said.
“He was beating her!” Angelique said.
“Yes. But that doesn't mean that she didn't care for him.”
“Hm.” Angelique sipped her coffee, then nodded. “You're right. I'll tell her. She needs to know.” She left the bar and walked up the stairs to the apartment. When she entered, Emma and Laurie were at the kitchen table. They looked up, and Angelique said, “Emma, we need to talk.”
Emma's eyes were questioning. “Sure,” she said.
Angelique sat at the table. “Have you seen the Paris news this morning?”
“No,” she said.
“The police, they found a young man, dead in the river.”
Emma gasped. “It's Jean, isn't it?”
“Yes. I'm sorry.”
She clapped a hand over her mouth. “How?” Emma said. “How did he die?”
“The news said that he was shot.” Emma stared at Angelique, who held up a hand. “We didn't do it. That's the truth.”
“I believe you.” She sat still for a moment, then began crying. She wiped at her eyes. “Damn it,” she said. “Damn it.”
“You really cared for him, didn't you?”
“But – ?” Angelique spread her hands wide in question.
“I know. He had problems. He beat me up.” She looked up at Angelique. “But it wasn't all bad with Jean. We had such good times at first. It only got bad later.”
“I'm so sorry for you,” Angelique said. “And you don't have to work tonight if you don't feel up to it.”
She rose from the table. “Thank you,” she said, “but it will help if I'm busy.” She wept as she entered her room and closed the door.
Laurie said, “Damn, Angel. Did I miss something?”
“Jean is dead. It's on the news.”
Laurie considered Angelique for a moment, then said, “Ah...we didn't have anything to do with that, did we?”
Angelique shook her head. “No.”
“Jeez. I guess the drug guys found him first.”
“How can she cry for him?” Laurie asked. “He was bum.”
“Even a bum has his qualities,” Angelique said. “Think on it this way. Suppose that I began beating you, that I bullied you. What would you do?”
“I'd leave you.”
“No,” Laurie said. “It would kill me. But I'd still leave.”
“Yes. But then, you find that I am dead. Murdered. How do you feel now?”
Laurie considered it. “I'd grieve. I'd miss the hell out of you. I'd want to excuse the bad, remember the good. I'd feel as if it was my fault, somehow; that I could have done something – ”
“Even so. You would feel guilt.” Angelique stared at her hands as she spoke. “I never told you what happened at Moshe's funeral, did I?”
“No. You didn't. What happened?”
Angelique stood in uniform at the side of the grave, her red beret snugged down on her head. The breeze was hot, the day oppressive. And Moshe was dead.
The funeral had just ended. The rabbi was speaking with Moshe's family, and people were whispering in hushed voices and gathering in groups to visit and pay respects. The activity seemed to swirl around Angelique; she did not pay attention to it. Her eyes – and her thoughts – were focused on Moshe's coffin.
She had seen others die. She had borne the flag-draped coffins of her comrades-in-arms before. But this was Moshe. He was not supposed to die. He had too much to live for. And he was a good man. The good die in herds, it seems; the evil die one at a time. She wondered why she had no tears for Moshe right now, and guessed that they had already been spent. Last night, in her private moments, she had wept hot, bitter tears for her friend. Today, she was just numb.
She felt a presence at her side, and she looked up. Moshe's wife, Miriam, was by her side. She held a folded white-and-blue Israeli flag against her chest, and she studied Angelique from beneath the black scarf draped across her hair. For a moment, they considered each other in silence as the soft, hot breeze stirred Miriam's hair and head covering. Her eyes, dark and penetrating, puffed and red from grief, held Angelique in their unwavering gaze. Then, she spoke in Hebrew.
“Were you there when he...when he died?”
“Yes. By his side.”
“Did you see how it happened?”
“What really happened? The army won't tell me.”
“He got shot in the head. It was instant. He did not suffer, I think.”
“How did he look? His face?”
“At peace. He seemed at peace.”
“And the one who shot him?”
“Dead,” Angelique said. “I killed him.”
“An eye for an eye,” Miriam said. “The ancient law fulfilled.” With a tone of bitterness, she added, “God should be pleased.” Angelique had no reply to that. Miriam continued, “You blame yourself for my husband's death, don't you?”
“Of course. It should be me, not him.”
“I thought so, too,” Miriam said. “I wondered why he died and you didn't. I blamed you. After all, you were his sergeant. You were supposed to keep him alive, bring him home to me.”
Angelique looked into Miriam's penetrating eyes. Accusing eyes. The same eyes that had burned at her from that Arab mother's face?
“I'm so sorry,” Angelique managed to whisper.
As they stood at the grave, the two women fell silent. Miriam rested a hand on Angelique's arm. “But it wasn't your fault. I know that now. You should, too.”
“How is it not my fault?”
“Moshe respected you. He said that you were the finest soldier he knew. And he also said that in war, you never lost your humanity, your conscience.” She stepped closer. “He told me about the dead children, and how you suffered for that. And about your sister, too, and how you suffer for her. And now, you suffer for Moshe and me. Angelique Bat-Ami, you carry too much of a burden. One day, it will break you. It will be your death.”
“I should be so lucky.”
“Oh, don't wish for that. Life is a gift.” She held a hand to her swollen belly. “I should know.”
“When will your baby come?” Angelique asked.
“In two months. Come and visit me. Don't be a stranger.” She stepped closer and looked into Angelique's eyes. “Please. It would make us happy to see you.”
Angelique considered her face. It was worn with grief but lovely, framed in dark, thick hair. The brown eyes considered her with kindness. “I will. Thank you,” she said.
They embraced. Angelique held her tightly, then found herself crying into Miriam's shoulder. She held Angelique in silence, patiently, and allowed her to weep out her emotion. It didn't last more than a few moments; then, Angelique regained her composure. She wiped her face with a hand. “I'm sorry,” she said again.
“Remember this, Bat-Ami,” Miriam said. “No one blames you. Most of all, I don't blame you. Of all the burdens you carry, you can leave that one behind you.” She kissed Angelique's cheek. “ Shalom ,” she said, then quickly turned and walked away as her relatives surrounded her and escorted her to a distant, waiting automobile.
Angelique left the grave-site. She thought about Miriam's words, thought about her being heavy with child and newly widowed. A noble woman, she decided. From the depths of her grief, she gave me a priceless gift: absolution. Angelique found herself smiling. Moshe, you married a good one.
Dov's voice brought her out of her thoughts. “Angel,” he said, “I've been looking for you. How are you doing?” Angelique looked up. Dov stood in front of her. His left arm was in a sling, still healing from his gunshot wound.
“I'll manage,” Angelique said. “And you?”
“I can drink a beer with either hand,” he said. “Would you care to join me? A toast, to Moshe?”
“I'd like that.”
“Your turn to buy?”
Angelique snugged the red beret more firmly onto her head. “Let's go get drunk.”
Together, they walked toward the road as grave-diggers passed them by, headed toward the open grave with shovels over their shoulders.
Paris, 2013, a month later...
Café Angel was open. Angelique was playing and singing an old standard tune, and business was light. Laurie stopped at the bar next to Emma, who was waiting for Maurice to pour her drinks and put them on her tray. “Hey, Emma?”
“Hm?” Emma looked at her and gave her a quizzical little smile.
“That fellow at your table, there – you took a lot of time with him.”
“Oh?” she said. “Which one?”
“The one who looks like Harry Potter.” She circled her eye with a finger. “He's got the eyeglasses, too.” She poked Emma in the ribs, and Emma squirmed and laughed. “He's a cute one. You like him, don't you? Tell the truth.”
“Stop!” Emma laughed as she picked up her tray. Then, she hesitated and shrugged. “Well, maybe. Just a little... Well, yes. I like him a lot.” She leaned closer and whispered,“We've been seeing each other for a week now.”
“Go, Emma!” Laurie asked, “Have you two, ah...?”
“No, no. Ah, he lives in the dormitory. I live...” She pointed toward the ceiling.
Laurie waved a dismissive hand. “Oh, bring him upstairs tonight. We won't mind.”
“Well...” Emma cast a glance at the floor.
Laurie noticed her hesitation and asked, “A problem?”
“I don't know... perhaps I'm just a little too careful, since...” She looked away. “Since Jean.”
Laurie brushed some loose hair from her face and said, “We have a saying in Kansas – ”
Maurice leaned over the bar. “They always have a saying in Kansas.”
“Oh, stop!” She laughed as she looked at Emma. “If you fall off the horse, you get right back on.”
Emma thought for a second; then, she brightened. “Oh! I understand. That's a good one.” Her expression reflected puzzlement. “If I'm riding a horse.”
“It's not about horses, Emma. It's about romance.”
“I see.” She laughed. “So, if I fall off during romance, I should get back on?”
Laurie's face turned red. Maurice and Emma roared in laughter. “I was not talking about that,” Laurie said, as she left the bar.
That night, in the darkness, Angelique slid into bed and relaxed. Laurie scooted closer to her, rested her head against her shoulder, and draped an arm across her abdomen. “You smell good,” she said.
“You feel good,” Angelique replied.
“Have you had any more dreams? I haven't felt you wake up.”
“No. How odd.”
“It's not odd. You're just at peace with that part of your past now.”
“Thanks to you.”
“Hey, all I did was listen. You resolved it.” They snuggled together in the quiet of the night for a few minutes. Then, Laurie said, “Did you know that Emma's seeing someone?”
“Hm.” Angelique stirred. “Yes,” she said.
Laurie leaned up on one elbow. “What? You did?”
“Yes,” Angelique said sleepily. “Matthieu is his name. He is a student at the university. Physics.”
“Damn,” Laurie said. “Where the hell have I been?” She thought about that, then said, “He looks like Harry Potter.”
Angelique snickered. “Yes, I thought so.”
“A physics nerd? Jeez. No more bad boys for her, I guess.”
“Good. Then I will not be forced to kill him.”
Laurie looked down at Angelique. She opened her mouth to ask a question, then shut it. She really didn't want to know. Instead, she merely said, “Okee-dokey, then. G'night, Angel. I love you.”
“Good-night. Sleep well. I love you too, Laurie.” Angelique turned onto her side.
Laurie settled down in bed, pulled her pillow beneath her head, and pressed her body against Angelique's back. She sighed, then settled down to sleep. She could feel Angelique's warmth, feel her breathing, hear her heartbeat. She closed her eyes. Then, she opened them again.
“You didn't actually kill Jean, did you?”
“Go to sleep, Laurie.” Angelique patted Laurie's hand, resting on her belly, and she yawned. “Sleep, now.”
The room fell silent. After a minute or so, Laurie said, “Okay. Now you're just messing with my mind.” After a silent pause, she added, “Aren't you?”
“Hm? Messing with your mind? What an interesting expression. Is that a Kansas saying? Is that – ?”
Laurie felt Angelique's body rumble with laughter. Angelique said, “Yes, Laurie. I am ‘messing with your mind'.”
“Oh? Is that so? Well, I'll give you something to laugh about.” She dug her fingers into Angelique's ribs, and Angelique shrieked in laughter. They began wrestling, laughing, tickling, shrieking, protesting in two languages, and getting thoroughly tangled in sheets and quilt.
In the guest room, Emma lifted her head from her pillow. “Good God, what is going on in there?” she asked.
Matthieu's voice was soft, a whisper spoken into her ear. “Your apartment-mates are noisy,” he observed. “Is it always so with them?”
Emma laughed. “Sometimes worse,” she said. “For those times, I have my headphones.”
“I like them,” he said. “You have good friends.”
Emma snuggled against his side and rested her head on his shoulder as she pulled the bed-sheet up beneath their chins. “You'll never know how good.”
-djb, March, 2013.
Author's notes: Music has always been integral to the Angelique stories, and this story is no exception. To get a flavor of the music, check it out on U-tube. Of course, Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata is there, as well as Scott Joplin's The Entertainer , Edith Piaf's Milord, and Barbara's Mon Enfance. In writing this story, I spent far too much time listening to great music when I should have been writing and editing. Shame on me!
Hop over there and give this great music a listen. You won't regret it.-djb
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