After swiping the package, Freddie and I had each taken an identical blue van, to throw them off our trail. My van stalled somewhere in the French Quarter, though, which made me nervous since I was the one with the package.
I scrambled on foot through the city streets, ducking in and out of bistros with the grocery bag in my hand. I nodded hello to curious customers squeezing by me as I stood in teashop doorways scanning the block.
I at last made it to the same safehouse I had used last time, a decaying, overgrown cathedral at the top of a hill. There was no longer a roof, but there were some little enclosed rooms along the sides of the nave. It was used as a student flophouse.
Several girls looked at me. I tried to make conversation. “So, are you guys in school?” But the question only confirmed that I was too old to be there. I felt like a pervert.
I called Mr. Vitte, to get instructions on where to drop the package. He said I was to leave it at “The Forum.” He acted as if everyone knew what that was, but I’d never heard of it. I sensed it had columns. I asked him. “That’s all I know,” he said. I was furious, because I knew I’d have to spend the next hours asking everyone in the city what “The Forum” was, and I’d look like a fool, and I desperately wanted to get rid of the package.
I thought of my father. I wondered if it was possible for him to love me, given that he had signed me up for this. What if they found me? How did the thought of my bones being crushed for his mission affect him? Did he think that was acceptable? I’ve never seen anyone so furious as they were when we took the package.
As it turned out, Holly was living in one of the siderooms. In chaos, as usual. I felt some relief, because she has a sense of the capable about her. Nothing can go too wrong here, I thought. she will explain her way out of a crisis.
But there was no time to get comfortable. As I was looking round her room, two of them showed up looking for me. The cockney, warty blonde one, in tight jeans and matching denim shirt, and Lemmy, oily hair past his shoulders, trenchcoat flapping behind him. They were asking some of the students if anyone had seen me. The students looked dazed and didn’t reply. The two men began overturning rubbish bins furiously.
I was surprised at how quickly they’d found me. Last time I used this safehouse they hadn’t found it for ages.
Holly instantly took charge. She closed the door to her room and stood in front of it, filling the doorway.
“Can I help you?” she said. They must have sensed that she was going to be difficult.. They did not bother to ask if she had seen me. They asked more roundabout questions.
“Does anybody work here?” the blonde one asked. Holly stalled them expertly.
“Work?” she said. I put the package among some garbage. I hid in the corner.
The conversation continued, Holly perfectly evasive, but the men more and more suspicious. The blonde one looked through the little window in her bedroom door, and shifted his eyes around the room. I knew that he saw me. It hadn’t been this way last time. Last time he’d looked through the window, I had been just out of sight. This time, my whole face was visible. We locked eyes.
The blonde one shoved Holly aside and dragged me out by the ear. He took out a penknife.
“I’m going to ask you where the package is.”
“I don’t have the package,” I lied.
“We’ve just come from Freddie, and he said you had the package. Two vans can’t fool us.”
“Freddie has the package.” The man stabbed me in the palm.
“Now, I am going to give you 15 minutes, and you’re going to go and get the package, and you’re going to give it back.” Dutifully, I went and got the package. It wasn’t worth being tortured over.
“Since I gave you the package quickly, perhaps we could talk about letting me live.” I was instantly nauseated by my cowardice. Not at giving up the package so quickly, but at begging for my life to be spared when he had never even said it would be taken.
There was a dog-eared rainbow poster on the church wall, a remnant from the days it was used to educate disabled children.
With the package returned, and their violent fury quelled, we all walked down the hill. The men’s associates came speeding round the corner in a blue van. They jumped out. They had machine guns. My interrogators didn’t have machine guns.
The blonde one grabbed a machine gun, and said “watch this.” He began to take aim at some birds that were floating in a puddle that had formed like a stream. Holly advised him not to shoot the birds.
“You’d do far better with a stone and a slingshot than a machine gun. The problem is that at this short range your accuracy is poor.” She kept chattering and it took him ages to finally fire. I knew she was trying to save the birds’ lives.