Outside Paris. July, 1997

Dismal clouds blanketed the countryside, denying even a single ray of moonlight permission to roam the countryside below. The wet air promised more rain would soon fall on the already–muddy estate, turning meadows into bogs by morning. Of course, none of this mattered a damn to the two people standing on the second–story veranda, grabbing quick cigarettes before the rain could return.

“He’s not coming tonight,” the first one quipped, staring over the fields. A plume of Galois smoke floated around his head as he gestured out towards the field with his burning cigarette. “He’d have to be mad.”

The second fellow, a prematurely bald man in his thirties, didn’t bother to respond. He was turned with his back to the field, looking through the veranda doors into the corridor beyond. In contrast to the younger man, he wasn’t enjoying his cigarette; he was just plowing through it in long, fast puffs.

“What?” the younger man asked. “Graubard, you don’t actually think he’s going to—”

“I think I’m Monsieur Graubard, Monsieur Charbonneau,” the older man interrupted, “and you haven’t thought about it.” The Galois shrank another centimeter in one sentence alone, smoke puffing out of his nostrils like a firework. “He’s already here.”

Charbonneau blinked. “But he’s not crazy.”

“For that woman, wouldn’t you be?”

Charbonneau’s head shook, the cherry of his cigarette drawing a curve of light in the darkness. “She’s beautiful, yes, but there are many beautiful women. I wouldn’t come here, not tonight, not for Helen of Troy.”

Graubard dropped his cigarette, crushed the butt under his heel, continued to stare inside at the corridor. “That’s why you’re not going to catch him, M. Charbonneau. You do not understand his madness. You do not understand hers. You do not understand what we’ve done to him and you have no understanding of what he is going to do to us. He is already here, an arrow in flight. I do not wish to be here when he strikes.”

Charbonneau snorted. “You talk this way all the time?”

“Think of our defenses, M. Charbonneau.” It was an order, not a question.

“Dogs, nightvision equipment, vehicles, redundant communications—”

“—He does not see that. They are only tools, provided by us for his use. We hold them; he commands them.”

Charbonneau glared at Graubard even as he offered another cigarette. “You’re an asshole, you know that?”

Graubard took the offered cigarette, bent over as Charbonneau lit it up. “M. Branch does not care one whit about our dogs, M. Charbonneau. He does not care if we can see in the darkness. He does not care for our radios, our guns, our cars. He looks at our men and sees killers and would–be killers, some men with bloodied hands, some men eager to bloody theirs. He sees men accustomed to military action, paratroops, ex–Legionnaires, former SAS men. He sees people willing to settle things permanently with bullets instead of words. Killers, all of us. That is why he does not fear us. That is why he will come tonight. He knows killers, and he has killed them.” A momentary pause followed. Graubard lifted his hand to rub against his bald head, his concern briefly breaking through his façade of calm. “M. Branch is not a killer. He is a thief. And he wants back what we have stolen from him.”

Charbonneau greeted the soliloquy with a snort. “So if he’s already here, where is he?” he asked as he finished his own cigarette, using the butt to chain–light another. “If you’re so sure of it.”

Graubard didn’t answer; he just turned to look over the fields. “We should draw in some,” he said as he gestured out over the landscape. “Bring more people back to the château.”

“That’d leave the perimeter open,” Charbonneau responded, as if explaining something to a dull child.

“It’s already open. We can’t do anything about that. But we might be able to do something about whether he’s able to get out.” Graubard looked up towards the sky as the first few droplets of rain began to fall. “Merde,” he muttered. “Always when you’re in the middle of a cigarette.” He shook his head and stepped over to the veranda doors, opening them. “Are you coming?”

“No,” Charbonneau shook his head. “Going to finish this one first.”

“Be wise,” Graubard said as he vanished back into the château.

Charbonneau stood there as the sprinkling of rain fell down, staring out over the field, lost in thought. The cigarette was forgotten about and fell from his fingers to land in the mud below. Finally he reached into his pocket, pulling out a handheld radio. “Charbonneau,” he said into it. “We might want to think about bringing some people back to the château. In this weather, he’s going to get inside. Maybe we can keep him from getting back out.”