“When you dropped me, and you staked your claim
on a VIP who could make your name,
you latched onto him and I became
a minor inconvenience.
Your protégé don’t care about art.
I’m the one who always told you you were smart.
You broke my heart into smithereens,
and that took genius.”
-Warren Zevon, “Genius“
The cab pulled up to the hotel on Boulevard Saint-Germain. The redhead in the back seat looked the driver in the eye and told him that she’d already paid. He nodded, now believing that she’d given him money, and bid her farewell as he drove on to find a fare that DIDN’T use the power of mind control to make him only THINK that they were paying for the ride.
Her heels clicked on the sidewalk as she entered the hotel. People turned to stare at the woman wearing a mini-dress that zipped from the front, sheer stockings completing the ensemble. She strode in as if she owned the place. She didn’t own it, but that didn’t stop her. She went straight to the elevator and lit a cigarette while she waited.
The elevator operator cleared his throat as she stepped in, as if he was about to tell her that smoking was only allowed in the lobby, restaurant, and rooms, when she shot him a look that told him not to bother. He delivered her to her floor in silence and smoke.
She approached the door to room 415 and knocked. A man’s voice on the other side said “Entre vous,” and she opened it and stepped in.
“Good evening, Monsieur Dubois.” She said in breathy French as she stepped in and closed the door, looking at the man lying on the bed in the darkness. She gave a delighted smile to the shadowy figure. “Your Papillion has arrived.”
“Lucky I didn’t bring along a killing jar, then.” A familiar voice said in Greek, before sitting up and clicking on the lamp, confirming the identity of the familiar man to whom it belonged. Troy Equals looked Contessa Helena de San Finzione in the eye. “There’s Postpartum Depression, Helen, and then there’s this.”
Helen stepped over to the table with two chairs that was by the window of the room and took one, sitting to face Troy. A lifetime criminal, she knew when she was caught. She put out her cigarette and immediately lit another before replying in Greek.
“I’m not going to bother asking how you found me, Troy. I can think of five or six ways you could have done it, and that’s just been in the past ten seconds. You’ve had a month to think about it.”
Troy looked her over before answering in English. She hadn’t gone to a lot of trouble to change her appearance, but since no one else had been looking for her, she didn’t need to.
“Well, my first move was to immediately rule out any place owned by Società Finzione. My second was to ask Susan if Suzy-Q knew anything. Susan said that she knew where you were, and you were alive, but that you didn’t want to be found; and using this thing you two have like that would feel like violating your trust, so I respected that. She’s in San Finzione with everyone else right now. Except Julie, naturally. She’s here; I mean, how well do you think ‘Bye, Mistress, I’m off to comb the Red-Light District of Paris for Helen without my badass wife or anyone else who knows French’ would have gone over?”
Helen nodded, happy that Susan hadn’t exploited the strange connection between them that allowed Suzy-Q, an aspect of Susan’s subconscious, to enter Helen’s mind and speak with her, then relay everything they discussed back to Susan, to track her down.
“I thank her for that. And you would have found me sooner. So, all right, I’m caught. And I know you want to tell the story. How, then?”
“If you recall, the Generalissimo introduced me to his friend, Detective Inspector Allaine, during all that stuff with Whyte. On a hunch, given that it’s you, I asked him to see if Interpol could find reports of an inordinate number of pimps, abusers. that kind of people; having bizarre, self-inflicted accidents. He said there’d been a noticeable spike in Paris of men reporting to emergency rooms to get weapons and other objects removed from their rectums, insisting that they’d shoved them up there themselves, rather than telling the usual ‘fell off a ladder’ lie they hear whenever someone comes into the ER with that problem.
“That sounded like the right track, so we came here. Julie translated the French for me; she’s standing outside the door in case you try to run.”
“Why you picked a room in the middle of the hall.” Helen interrupted. “To give me a longer sprint to the exits.”
Troy nodded and finished.
“A couple days of asking the right people gave us word that there was an impossibly beautiful, high-priced call girl who’d come to the city a couple weeks ago and was operating independently; without an escort service or ‘protection,’ calling herself Papillion Madinaux. A call girl with a preference for women and older gentlemen. One who charges Robin Hood rates and whose skills in bed are ‘beyond words’ and who already has a month’s waiting list. From there, it was just a matter of finding someone on the list and having Julie command him to send you here and forget the appointment.”
“Well, how can I get mad about being tracked down by what a good fuck I am?” Helen asked, bringing the ash tray closer to her. “Jeanne emails me updates about how the boys are doing with the nannies. It sounds like everything’s going just fine without me: Maria knows what she’s doing now and she’s not alone. Vincenzo’s legacy is secure, the monarchy is safe, and she’ll use his ideals to guide her. Our new industries are insuring a bright future for the country. Uongo is starting free elections, and none of the candidates seem like a bad enough person to get involved. You, Julie, and Susan have each other.” She choked a little before continuing. “I’ve taken care of everything, Troilus. I’m not needed anymore.”
Troy looked over at the door, which didn’t move. He then turned back to Helen.
“Must be a good, thick door for Julie to not hear you and bash it in to tell you how full of shit that statement was.”
Helen nodded, everything Julie would have had to say about it playing in her head.
“When you find out who made it, pass it along to Mander. He’ll be interested. The fact that it’s still intact tells me that you didn’t bring any Ultimados with you.” Her tone turned indignant. “Also, you won’t find any of those signs of cocaine use that you keep looking me over for, Troilus. I haven’t fallen that far yet.”
Troy saw through Helen’s effort to change the subject and kept going.
“Why didn’t you just come home, Helen?” Troy asked, referring to the home that he, Julie, and Susan shared in Federal Way, Washington; which, like anywhere they lived, Helen could also call home.
“Apart from being the first place they’d look for me, I knew you’d just try to talk me into going back. Which, now that you’ve found me, is how I’m pretty sure this ends, but I have no intention of making it easy for you.” Helen said, searching for something else to be upset about.
“Julie’s plan was to shoot you with a tranquilizer gun the moment you walked in, but it turns out that tranq darts and guns are difficult to come by. So yeah, figured I’d try talking to you instead.”
“Let me save you some time.” Helen said, counting on her fingers. “You won’t say it, but I’m a horrible parent and a terrible ruler for dropping everything and running; how it’s a very Helen Parker thing to do, what would Propappou and Vincenzo think, and I’m also a horrible great-grandmother to Maria; I know parenting’s on there already, but Maria’s a separate categ...”
Troy stood up and wrapped his arms around her. Helen knew that a kiss was coming and was ready for it. When it was over, he spoke.
“Ok, Petalouda; thank you for getting everything you absolutely knew I was NOT going to say out of the way early. Now can I get on with it?” She nodded as he sat down and accepted a seat on his knee. There was another chair at the table, but she decided she didn’t want to be that far away from him just yet.
“I know that I no longer need to remind you that Contessa Helena de San Finzione is not alone in this world, because of all the time I spent the past few months lying beside you and telling you how we’ll have proof of that soon. And how honored I am that THIS is how I lose the title ‘Last Living Man That You Love.’” Neither could suppress a snicker at that, but Troy kept going. “I don’t need to reassure you that their childhood will be better than yours, because they have a father who’ll never hurt them and their mother; so, she won’t be too busy drinking away the pain he inflicts on her every day to raise them. You’ve deliberately put yourself in a place where you ARE alone, Helen; and there are people crying, literally in at least eight cases that we both know, for you to return.”
Helen felt like standing up before she felt like remaining where she was. She patted Troy’s other knee.
“I thank you for going light on the ‘what about our children’ card, Troilus.”
“Appealing to emotion with you right away would have been a total rookie move.” He responded, putting an arm around her. “My next was going to be to remind you that Maria loves the rest of La Familia too much for her and the twins’ good, and that without you to keep them at bay, she’ll let them in eventually and they’ll get their hooks into the kids. None of them know that you’re gone yet; Susan’s done a good job handling La Familia.”
The unusual connection that Helen shared with the fourth member of their family, Susan Bailey; in addition to allowing her to relay messages through Suzy-Q, had also somehow taught Susan fluent Italian, which was the language she needed to know to be able to use their ability on the covetous family that Helen had married into. Power-hungry distant relations of Vincenzo’s and Maria’s, whom she referred to collectively as “The Sackville San Finziones.”
“And I have to admit that even sitting on your knee was originally just to get you to turn your back to the door, because I know The Colonel taught Julie to shoot, and hitting me in profile with a dart gun from across the room while you’re holding me is a shot that would be no problem for her.”
Troy hummed his agreement and held her closer, trying not to obviously turn them so more of Helen was facing the door.
“She wanted to take the Liam Neeson approach. You know, throat-punch the entire nation of France for ninety minutes until we get you back.”
“Plus, you said that tranq darts were ‘difficult to come by.’ You didn’t say ‘impossible.’ You’re still a paid consultant for the Ministry of Intelligence, I’m sure they’d let you borrow a couple if you said you needed them to bring me back. Or you could’ve just mind controlled them into giving you some. Either way, you’re probably not joking about it.”
“I don’t know what’s in them. I just said we needed something strong enough to take down a genetically-engineered CIA sex-assassin.” Troy said with a smile. That got one out of Helen, followed by a flash of worry as she remembered why Troy was holding her in a darkened hotel room in Paris.
“I’ve tried to avoid TV. I didn’t want to hear what people were saying, and I figured my disguise wouldn’t be good enough to stand up to a picture of me.”
“Putting on a red wig, obviously making yourself up, and buying off-the-rack? That’s enough to fool most people for a while. We talked Maria out of offering a reward and kept it out of the media; Rita’s been putting in overtime being ‘seen out’ with the boys. They’re starting think she’s Mommy, Helen.”