Gare du Nord
I was cycling through the Val d'Oise outside of Luzarches when I ran across four gangsters shooting two other men in the back of their heads. I assumed they were gangsters as who else would have the ability to just shoot two men, stripped completely naked, their hands tied behind their backs with flexi-strips, in the head? I know no one.
I had seen the men earlier, in fact, and thought they were workmen as all six were dressed at the time, but I remembered something strange about the outfits of the two men who were now lying dead on the forest floor. The cloth was light in nature, cotton, maybe? Not the wool of a construction man or someone who would work the earth-moving equipment typical of the logging operations you'd run across in the Chantilly Forest. A perfectly beautiful, quiet day away from the bustling city would forever be interrupted by the thunderous sound of one of those great, yellow beasts choking to life, its tires taller than me even if I were standing up straight on my pedals.
"Aiiiy," I had said softly as I watched the bullets go into their heads, their bodies sagging into the ground.
One minute alive, looking sullen—maybe drugged or beat up. The next? An empty man in the mud. Why did I have to choose to cycle down this trail of all the dozens that fanned out from the logging routes? Probably the same reason they did. It looked less muddy than the others from the recent rain.
"Aiiiy," I had said again as the men were kicked over onto their backs and shot again, both twice in their chests. One of the dead men exhaled a mist of blood when the bullet pierced his lung, as if the head shot had not done its job.
It was Sunday and I was riding at my own risk as it was. The forest was filled with hunters for the day, local bumpkins wading around with shotguns and rifles, seeking duck and wild boar (called "sauvage" en français— my favorite French literalism) and offering a hearty wave to the black man as he cycles into the woods as if to say, "Excusez-moi if I should shoot you?"
But I avoided the boar runs as their rooting tore up the path and made it difficult to cycle along and had thereby remained bullet-proof. Until today, maybe.
I didn't want to move as I knew they would see me in my blue jacket against the backdrop of greens, so I stayed perfectly still. They had dug very shallow graves nearby and scooped out a couple more shovelfuls for good measure before moving back to the bodies. As carrying the bodies would take two men each, I knew all I had to wait for were their hands to be preoccupied with the burial.
"La bête est lourde!" (The beast is heavy) was all I heard from one of the gangsters as he picked up one of the dead men from under the shoulders as his partner grabbed the legs.
I was gone like a shot. If they had heard me or seen me, I would have been a bird in their minds as no human being could have moved as fast as I did. I sailed down the trail, just wanting a way out of the forest. My cab was parked near the post office in Viarmes where I could park all day on weekends, but the direct route back would keep me in the forest with these bandits. I wanted roads and people and cars and, maybe, even the gendarmerie.
Ten minutes later, I emerged from the woods at a horse farm, finding a family of four French weekend aristocrats preparing to ride their mounts down the trail. Maybe they'd find the bodies before the boars, however unlikely, and the little girl would be crying in front of a microphone on France 2 by nightfall? As I said, not likely. I smiled at the little girl. A true Parisian, she looked away as if I didn't exist.
It was not as if I had never seen a dead man, a man shot, a man executed. I was born in Senegal—Dakar, since you asked—and had seen some gangsters growing up (mostly those who controlled talibé boys), but had traveled to Casamance one time and one time only. While there, I watched as our Surete Nationale shot four separatists on the street in their bellies, leaving them to die in agony. Those same talibé boys later set the bodies on fire.
My mother had sent me to Paris when I was eleven and I'd grown up in Seine-St. Denis. There were gangs, sure, but they fought for territory and bullshit, not their morning bread. I stayed away from them, too. I drove a cab and preferred the long runs to Charles de Gaulle or Orly. A bunch of no-tip-ever-ever Malay tourists from La Tour Eiffel to the JAL terminal? Absolutely. A couple of horny drunks with cash hanging out their pockets trying to get from Saint-Germain to Rue de Berri on New Year's Eve? I'll sit that one out, thank you.
"So, who were the men, Mamadou?" my mate, Diadji, asked me when I'd stopped at his bottle shop in Bobigny on the way back to the city.
"I don't know," I said, shaking my head as I drank a coffee. "Gangsters. They used revolvers to kill the men, but had automatic pistols in their belts. Probably to throw away."
"Shhhit???" whispered Diadji. "Whites?"
"Yeah, French, though. Not Russians or Dutch."
Diadji nodded, glancing to the two or three other men milling around the courtyard in front of the little brick storefront where he hocked his wares.
"You said the dead men, they had uniforms the first time you saw them?"
"Yeah, maybe?" I said, glancing back to the street as a truck rumbled by in front of the gates, a couple of dishdasha-wearing boys coming back from the madrasah laughing together about something. "Black pants, blue jacket. Only one man didn't have a hat, but these two boys had white, sea captain-type hats with the little black brim."
"Like a porter?"
"Maybe?" I shrugged. "Not like any I've seen at Orly or Charles de Gaulle."
"What about at the train station?"
That's when it hit me. That had been my first thought when I saw them, what were train station men doing out in the woods? Not just any train station men, either, but Eurostar porters.
"Yeah, man," I said. "I've seen those uniforms at Gare du Nord."
Diadji and I sat in silence for a moment. The sloppy-looking man who worked down the street at the Vespa motor scooter dealership came in for his daily ice cream pop and Diadji rose to take his oil-greased paper money. After the mechanic hemmed and hawed over his selection, but then took the same thing he always took, Diadji returned, looking concerned.
"Man, you have to call the police. If they're going to get up to some hijinks in Gare du Nord, who do you think is going to get their head beat in?"
Diadji waved a finger between us, pointing to me, pointing to him.
"They were gangsters, man," I protested. "The stupid porters probably owed them money or something."
"Then why make them strip? Why take their clothes?" Diadji pressed.
"Harder to identify the bodies," I said, thinking I'd seen same on an episode of Les bleus. "Throw the police off the trail."
"Then they would've bashed in their teeth, taken their fingers, broken the skull," Diadji claimed. "All they wanted were the uniforms."
My mind reeled. I wondered if Diadji was right. Without replying, I reached into my pocket and pulled out my phone. I opened the camera app and scrolled to the last photo taken. I handed the phone over to Diadji who stared at it with a combination of fear and incredulity.
"Aiiiya, Mamadou," he whispered. "Are you crazy?"
I had been in trouble with the police three times and had to go to the Tribunal de Grande Instance in Bobigny each time. All three were related to minor traffic offenses with my taxi. When people hit a cab, they think the taxi company should pay so they always act as if they were completely without fault. Of course, the taxi company hangs the driver, so I would have to be there convincing the judges why some proper lawyer's wife on her phone would lie about who pulled into the intersection first.
But we drivers had a friend in the Préfecture de Police, Service Taxis.
"Don't tell me you messed up again, Mamadou?" the beautifully rotund Ouleye Sillah smiled at me when I came into her office at 36 rue des Morillons first thing the next morning.
I had asked Diadji to come with me, but he refused.
"You don't think these men will come for you?" he had asked when he finally handed the phone back to me.
I had shrugged. This is what I had been shown.
"I need a favor," I said, sliding the phone over to her, the photo already up on its screen. "Hit and run, but I followed him and took a picture."
She looked down at the slightly blurry photograph of a rear license plate on the back of an almost-new black Mercedes and rolled her emerald green eyes.
"C'est des conneries!" she swore, which made me smile.
"Can you help me find him?"
"You bring me something that can make me happy?"
I reached into my backpack and withdrew two long plastic sleeves of kola nuts, straight off the boat. After Diadji realized I was going to go through with it, he had given them to me saying I could pay him back. Ouleye smiled as she took the bags and silently stowed them under her desk. She turned back to her computer and accessed the national vehicle registration site, typing in the plate number. Within seconds, the computer had generated a name.
"Stephane Everard," she announced, but then checked his address. "Fancy. Has an address in Gouvieux."
"What's his job?" I asked.
"Doesn't say," she said, scanning around the page.
I saw a phrase I didn't know. "What's that?"
"It's in case he has a criminal history," she said, then clicked the button revealing an empty page. "But he doesn't get in trouble, this one."
I stared at his non-existent record and wondered if this made more of a case for "Stephane Everard" being a very skillful gangster or part of some terrorist plot.
I lived in a building in Bobigny that was slated for demolition more than fifty years before I moved in, but the money was never spent and there it stood alongside several other "temporary" housing apartments originally erected for North African guest workers who came to France after the world wars to re-build the country. The immigrants ended up staying in the northeastern suburbs—Clichy-sous-Bois, Seine-Saint Denis, Saint Ouen, Bobigny, etc.—and Paris simply began walling us in. Train lines were built, but they never budgeted for more than a handful of stops in our area. Highway overpasses were constructed, but no on-ramps or exits to and from the immigrant banlieue. Gradually, this had the effect of creating borders between the poor areas and the rest of Paris. Though a crow could fly from the furthest point in Tremblay to the Left Bank in fifteen minutes, it took a banlieue man two hours on a bus.
I had gone home after my meeting with Ouleye, but I couldn't sit still. I had an evening shift and should have been sleeping, but I kept having visions of the aftermath of a terrorist event. Little kids throwing rocks as police cars rolled into Bobigny. Riot cops in their flexible body armor jumping from their vans, which barely slowed down to allow them to hit the ground running. The smoke from the inevitable fires. The deaths.
But then I thought, that wasn't reality. Whoever heard of a white, French terrorist unless you count the Parisian anarchists of a century past or the ever-striking coal miners of Alsace and Lorraine?
I stared at the ceiling until it got dark wondering why it was me who saw all of this, but then realized I had done so and the reason didn't matter. I picked up my cell phone.
"I'm sick, boss," I said. "Can you find someone to cover my shift?"
"Your loss," said Prideux. "I've got drivers lining up to take your fares."
I thanked him and hung up, pocketing my phone as I grabbed my jacket and headed out the door. My cab was parked around the corner and I climbed inside, turned off the "on duty" light and got on the A86 heading west to pick up the E15 north towards Lille and the Val d'Oise, a drive I usually only made on weekends. As it was early evening, the traffic was awful all the way up until the A1 where it finally began to speed up. The sun was setting as I left the close suburbs behind and made my way to the small village of Saint-Witz, where I left the A1 and drove down a two-lane highway towards Survilliers (passing a four or five families of gypsies making a collective dinner outside their parked camper vans). Now firmly in the sticks, I picked up the D924 that would take me through the Chantilly Forest. I had the CD player on the whole way and was bobbing my head along to MC Solaar as he sang "Qui sème le vent récolte le tempo" as I reached Chantilly and headed east to Gouvieux.
I tried not to think about the darkening woods on either side of my taxi, remembering the two bodies I had seen dumped there only two days before. Had the sauvages already devoured the skin from their bones? And how many more bodies must be laying out there, lonely ones never to be found as no passerby chanced to see their burial?
I finally reached Gouvieux and found Everard's street fairly easily, though I had to resort to using my GPS. It was on a side road flanked by tall trees that created a canopy overhead. The lots were all very large, like farm properties only without the fields beyond. There were big houses and small. Brick ones and stone ones and even one house with a thatched roof like in a fairy tale. There were barns and detached garages and rear buildings that might double as cottages. One house even had its own clay tennis courts with tall light poles in case you wanted to play a midnight match. Everywhere, the ground was covered with fallen leaves.
Everard's house was at the end of the street, just before the road became a bicycle path the disappeared into the nearby woods, a tributary of the vast Chantilly. I wondered if he walked the path often to discover good places to dump bodies, the spot where we had been introduced probably only five kilometers away.
I had not told Diadji that the two dead men were African. I didn't know from where—Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Cote D'Ivoire, Chad. Maybe even Senegal. But I did know that no one would care and if Stephane Everard and his friends had wanted a cab instead of a porter's uniform, it could've been me.
I pulled my cab onto the grass just alongside the bike path, knowing from experience that any passersby would just assume I parked and took my bicycle for a ride. I had a bike carrier mounted on the back for passengers, but I got far more use out of it.
Everard's house was plain, a small family home whose style made it look like it was built in the seventies. All poorly cut glass and bad angles. There wasn't a light on inside and the garage door was closed, so I didn't see the Mercedes. I slid down in my seat and waited, falling asleep just after midnight.
The night moved along swiftly. A couple of times I heard a noise in the nearby bushes, but figured it for the boars. I fell asleep just after midnight, but woke up a couple of hours later, panicked I'd missed something. I retrieved a bag of snacks I kept under the passenger seat and opened up a couple of strawberry chews, popping them into my mouth one after another. I had a bottle of water nearby and drained that, too. I was more bored than thirsty.
It was five o'clock when a light finally came on in the house. It reminded me of a story I'd read once about some gangster's wife who bemoaned the fact that they could never turn on a light or open the curtains in their house without worrying about getting shot. I could see Everard right through his front window, dressed in jeans and a puffy jacket. If I'd had a rifle, I could have blasted his brains all over his sofa.
I didn't have much of a plan. Follow his car, see where he went. If he goes to some hideout with the other killers and there was evidence, call the police. Shitty plan, no?
When he walked out of the house to the garage, he was carrying a backpack. He swung open the doors of the garage and there was the Mercedes. He climbed in, started it up and drove down the driveway towards the automatic gate down by the street.
I thought he wouldn't notice my taxi, but his car paused at the edge of his driveway and even though I was hidden below his line of sight, I had angled around my rearview mirror and could see him staring my way.
I didn't move a muscle and tried not to even breathe. He seemed to be doing the same, like a lion focusing in on a kill. But after a few more seconds, the Mercedes inexplicably kept going, driving down the street and away.
"Aiiiy," I said aloud, breathing a sigh of relief.
I started up the cab and slowly rolled back on the road. I had consulted the GPS and knew there were three ways out of the neighborhood, one of which would take a driver further into the Val d'Oise, the other two in the direction of Paris. The closest route was the one I gambled Monsieur Everard would use, so I took the longer way and planned to meet up with him on the D924. I didn't think there would be many cars on the road this early and a black Mercedes would stand out. A taxi cab, however, would not.
I wheeled through the dark neighborhood at speed, thinking I might even get there before him so that I could then slow down and let him pass like nothing. But then I got to the main road and saw no immediate sign of the Mercedes. I pulled onto the D924 and accelerated down the highway until I got to a vantage point where I could tell he wasn't in front of me. I then slowed down to almost a crawl, but he never caught up. Finally, I turned around and went back, thinking I'd eventually see him in the oncoming lane.
Nothing. I'd lost him completely. So much for my plan.
Frustrated, I suddenly realized that he might not be driving into Paris at all, but parking his car and taking the train. There were two train stations nearby that shuttled commuters into Gare du Nord, the RER from Viarmes and the "commuter express" out of Luzarches that made half as many stops as the rural line and thereby took half the time to get into the city.
So which was it? Viarmes or Luzarches? Was he in a hurry? Or was he aiming to get packed in with the rest of the rush hour crowd?
I chose Viarmes because I thought, as a terrorist, he'd want to wait until it was later and there'd be more chances for passengers getting aboard as the morning went on. If he'd had any kind of criminal history or security cameras over his house, maybe I'd have chosen Luzarches.
I wheeled around and drove towards Viarmes, a drive that only took a few minutes. The small village was asleep and I easily navigated its narrow stone streets, bordered on both sides by tiny shops. In one, I spied a baker already hard at work on the day's wares.
The Viarmes train station was on the far side of town, up a one-lane road at the top of a small rise. I wove up through the neighborhood until I could see its gravel parking lot up ahead and though it held a couple of cars, the Mercedes was not among them. I cursed to myself knowing I'd never get back to Luzarches in time. I could drive in to Paris, but with the morning traffic, there was no way I'd beat the commuter express.
But as I turned the cab around, I suddenly saw Everard's Mercedes just down the block, parked in front of a house as if it belonged to the owner. I recognized the plate number from my phone and thanked my lucky stars. I turned the cab back around and rolled into the parking lot, pulling up next to a red Peugeot.
When I climbed out, the air was crisp and I could see my breath in the early morning fog. The dim glowing lights of the station illuminated a couple of people already on the platform, but I saw no sign of Everard.
I walked up to the platform and came around the corner of the closed ticket office to where two automatic ticket kiosks were standing. Right beside the kiosks, sitting beside another man, was Everard. I recognized his partner as someone else from Everard's murderer's club and I froze as the two men looked up at me expectantly.
I gave a dull nod and muttered "bonjour" before turning my attention to the kiosks. I opted for a two-way ticket, to Gare du Nord and back, and inserted a 5-Euro note...
...only to have it get shoved back in my hand. Exactes monnaie.
"Oh, merde," I cursed.
Fruitlessly, I shoved the fiver back in, hoping for a different verdict, but it was the same. The noise the machine made had its own sense of finality, but I was determined and jammed the five in a third time only to get it spit out again.
I turned and saw Everard, obviously annoyed by the sound of the machine, handing me the 1,80 I needed to get the ticket.
"Merci," I said, trying not to reveal that I was shaking. "Merci, beaucoup."
I offered him the five, but he just grinned and shook his head.
"No, no," he replied. "Je déteste ces machines."
"Merci," I offered one more time, plunking the coins into the kiosk and getting my ticket.
I moved away and didn't look back, but filled my mind with the image I had of him looking up at me just now from the bench. He had a closely-trimmed beard and mustache, black hair, but strands of gray. He looked every bit the fifty-four years listed on the registry page with his tough, tanned skin. His eyes were dark and betrayed intelligence. I had to remind myself that he was the one that called one of the dead men a "beast" moments after he'd shot him in the back of the head.
A clock above the platform counted down the time until the next train was to arrive. A donkey brayed just on the other side of the tracks on some farm, obscured by the early morning darkness and a rank of trees.
The clock ticked down to zero and the train's bright, single headlight emerged from the darkness up the tracks. Everard and his companion had stayed seated on their bench, but now rose. I tried to make my move closer to them as nonchalant as possible so that when we climbed onto the same car, it would seem only the natural choice.
The train pulled into the station and directly in front of myself and the two gunmen was a mostly empty, double-deck car. I allowed for Everard and his partner to enter in the doors at the back of the coach and I entered at the front. They immediately climbed up to the second floor while I took a seat below. I hadn't seen it before, but Everard's partner also had a backpack that he might have had under the bench when I'd approached earlier.
The ride into Paris was nerve-wracking. I had realized the moment I saw the two men on the platform that this must be "the day" or at least a test run. The commuter lines from Luzarches and Viarmes both dead-ended at the same place—Gare du Nord. I wondered if their two compatriots were going to meet them on this train or were, perhaps, already at the station. I wondered if there were people on this train right now who would be dead within the next few hours and I wondered if I would be among them.
As we left the pastures of the Val d'Oise behind and moved into the northern suburbs, I counted down the stations until we reached St. Denis and considered getting off. If I left the train, I knew I'd be alive at the end of the day and whatever happened would happen.
The train pulled to a stop at the St. Denis platform and only a thin, bird-faced lady boarded, bright pink shoulder bag clutched to her chest. She sat as far away from me as possible even though I recognized her as someone who lived in a building near Diadji's shop who I'd probably nodded a "bonjour" to half a dozen times.
There was only one stop left until Gare du Nord.
I stared out the window at the sights of Paris, my adopted home. I never understood the romantic regard so many people held the city in. To me, it was an endless labyrinth of crumbling buildings and modern steel monstrosities, each craning towards the sky to prove it was part of the nouveau. This city was a relic of past centuries, the capital of a civilization that no one had bothered to tell was passe.
We slid into the concrete corridors that tunneled us into Gare du Nord, the walls just outside our windows covered in elaborate, multi-colored graffiti.
"Gare du Nord," clanked out the woman's voice from the overhead speaker as the train came to a stop at the end of the line.
The doors opened and the few people who had boarded climbed off. I waited and a few more disembarked from the upper deck, just no Everard. I suddenly worried that they'd managed to get off earlier when I finally heard them coming down the steps behind me. I quickly pretended to search for a cell phone, fallen beneath the seats, but they didn't turn to appreciate my act. Instead, they marched briskly off the train, glanced once down the platform and then moved to join the other passengers on the stairs that would take them up to the street level. They stared straight ahead, on a mission.
I sat up and watched them go, seeing first that they still carried their backpacks. As soon as they were out of sight, I got to my feet and hurried off the train, which was parked for twenty minutes before being sent back in the direction of Viarmes and then Seugy, the northern end of the line.
When I reached the bottom of the stairs, Everard and his accomplice were just reaching the top. I noticed that there was something different about them, not just in their temperament. They had their backpacks, but...they didn't have their jackets.
I whipped around and looked back to the second level of the train car. People were already getting on board.
"Arret!!" I yelled as I raced back to the train, pushing people aside. "Sortez du train!"
I knocked a young, headphones-wearing man to the platform as I launched myself through the doors of the car and up the stairs to the second floor. Three people were already up there, one cautiously rising to her feet as they had all seen my manic approach.
Nobody moved for a tenth of a second, but then the oldest of the riders, an elderly woman with deeply sunken eyes, raised a crooked finger and pointed, dismissively, to the seat directly in front of her as if me forgetting my jacket was hardly reason for such a display.
I had taken only a single step towards the seat, just enough to glimpse the two jackets, lumpy as if the pockets were filled with contraband, when they exploded, one after another.
I was blown off my feet and slammed against the wall at the top of the stairs and then dropped straight down the steps. As I flew, I saw the old woman's face concussed as if in a wind tunnel and the person who had been rising was blown off her feet as well. The windows had all shattered at once and I'd been showered with glass. I think I was also knocked unconscious.
When I came to, I couldn't see and was briefly afraid that I'd lost my vision. Even though I knew it should be a lot of noise, it was at a remove. All that screaming? It was two blocks away. Nothing invaded the hollow thudding in my ears. My vision turned out to be fine. It was just that the entire train car was filled with smoke. I staggered to my feet and half-walked, half-crawled out of the train before I looked back and saw that a couple of fires had started in the second level. A few embers had even escaped up into the rafters overhead and had started small fires where they landed.
When I looked around, it seemed there were as many people running to the train as away from it.
"That's him!!" cried the young man with headphones, in English, to a machine gun-wearing policeman who had just arrived.
"Vous restez!" the police man ordered, pointing the machine gun at my head.
"No, no," I said. "Ils s'échappent!"
I pointed up the stairs and the cop hesitated, looking up towards the street level. I considered that he might actually believe me.
The second explosion occurred two tracks over and was much larger than the first, or so it felt as the platform quaked and people fell to the ground around me. I looked over and saw smoke pouring out of another RER train that had just arrived, but also a burning man—his entire face and upper torso engulfed in flames—struggling to escape a shattered window.
That's when a strange smell put a name to what I had been tasting in my mouth. The air was filling with smoke still, but it wasn't black like from a fire, more white and it smelled like caramel. In my mouth, I had been tasting sugar since I came to, but assumed it was some kind of after-effect of my injuries. I'd always heard that spinal fluid tasted like almonds, so I'd been ready to say "they" had it wrong.
But why sugar?
For the moment, though, I didn't care. If there was a second bomb, might there be a third and fourth? I joined the crowd streaming up to the street level and disappeared into the mass. Someone had decided chaos-control was more important than corralling suspects and had opened the glass doors on either side of the ticket turnstiles, allowing everyone coming up from the RER platforms to get where they were hoping to go. We were all on camera anyway, I figured.
I ran towards the exit that would've had me spilling out onto Rue de Maubeuge for no reason in particular. Maybe I thought I could get a cab back to Viarmes? Whatever the case, I just wanted to breathe fresh air. People stared at me like I was the bomber, but then I realized it was because my face and body had been slashed up by broken glass.
As everyone ran, the smoke from below began flooding the street-level and I couldn't even see the clock hanging from the vaunted ceiling above. The Metro trains were all stopped on the tracks, too, and their riders were joining the commuters who had come in from the outskirts in the flood to the exits.
That's when I chanced to look up to the upper deck and see Everard.
He and his now-three comrades were all openly carrying machine guns in front of the upstairs Eurostar terminal that overlooked the train station's street-level. I also saw two men in Eurostar porter uniforms that I didn't recognize and realized the total number of Everard's men was six, not four.
I couldn't see much through the smoke, but the gang had their guns aimed at a number of Eurostar employees and had seized the security area around the twin metal detectors visible through the bullet-proof glass. They weren't even looking down at the masses below, so focused were they on their task.
A tall escalator would take Eurostar passengers up to this ticket-level which may have been the next floor up, but was actually three or four floors above street-level, making for a lengthy ascent. As I watched, the gunmen disappeared with the Eurostar employees and security details through the metal detectors and vanished from sight down the escalators on the other side that would take them back down to a street-level platform reserved solely for the Eurostar trains as one had to pass through customs to board.
When I moved towards the Eurostar escalator, I looked out towards the Maubeuge exit and considered one more time the sweaty confines of the cab that would take me back to Viarmes and realized the better destination would be Diadji's courtyard snack shop in St. Denis. There, I could relate to him my day's adventure in exchange for a low whistle and a head shake, maybe even a free soda.
But then my feet took me to the escalator and I went up the steps, two at a time.
The Eurostar ticket counter was completely empty and I realized Everard had escorted all the employees down to the train, its hijacking I now felt was his goal, though I didn't know what he was hoping to accomplish with that. As soon as the hijacking was discovered, I was sure the police would be out in force at the stations in Lille or Calais to stop the train from leaving the country.
Like the ticket counter, the customs and security area was completely empty as well. I passed through the metal detectors, which beeped in protest at my car keys. I came around the corner and looked down the escalators that led to the Eurostar platforms, only to see that two of Everard's men were idling below. I ducked back before they saw me, but I could hear that the train was gearing up to leave the station.
"Venez à bord!" came a cry a few seconds later from the front of the train and I looked down the escalator, seeing the two men hurry aboard.
I leapt to my feet and raced down the escalator as fast as my feet would go. When I reached the platform, the train was already leaving the station. It was moving slow enough that I could catch up to the last car and stared in at one of the service attendants who looked back at me in terror. She moved over to the door, glanced down the train to the next cars, but then hit a release button causing the rear door to slide open enough for me to easily jump aboard.
"Un officier de police?" she asked expectantly and I realized she was English, as were probably a number of the passengers.
"No," I said, shaking my head.
She stared at me with incredulity. "Then what are you doing chasing after the train?"
"I saw these guys kill two men in the Val d'Oise," I explained. "I've been following them."
"They have killed?!" she asked, terrified.
"Yes," I nodded before moving into the train car.
There were many empty seats in the regular class car and I wondered if any passengers managed to get off the train before it was taken over. I looked out the window and saw that we were quickly picking up speed, racing away from Paris. The door to the next car up opened and one of the gunmen, luckily not Everard or the other fellow from the Viarmes platform, entered and eyed the scene. He smiled at me and the six other passengers.
"The hard part is over," he said, in heavily accented English. "I apologize for the inconvenience and you may not make it to Pancras today, but the hard part is over."
Before he could say another word, I jumped to my feet, ran straight at the man and tackled him at mid-chest. He hadn't even brought his gun around and the look on his face was of utter shock, as if I'd just betrayed him over a contract.
"Merde!" whispered one of the other passengers as I punched the gangster in the head and took his gun away from him, tossing it under a nearby seat.
I looked back to the attendant. "Do you have anything to tie him up with?"
She couldn't believe what she was seeing, so it took a moment for the question to compute. Finally, she shook her head.
I considered belting him in with the seat belts, but it didn't seem like a good idea to get him into a seated position. Finally, I decided to rope his hands to one chair with the belts, then tie his feet to the seat in front of him with that chair's belts. He wouldn't be suspended entirely off the floor, but a good part of him would be.
"Help me," I said, motioning to one of the male passengers. He didn't move a muscle, as if waiting for the gunman to snap into action and bite my head off.
Sighing, I picked up the gun and made the gunman move into the position I'd selected for him. He was still stunned from the hit he took to the head when he struck the floor, but nodded and followed my directive. As I tied him up, I glanced into his surprised eyes wondering what he would think if I simply shot him instead. This one had been the one besides Everard who pulled the trigger on the men in the woods.
It took some time to tie him up as the train rocketed along and after several furtive glances to the next cars, I soon realized that the gunmen weren't really checking in on one another figuring, as this one had announced, that the hard part was over. I figured that there was no way I could move up the cars without getting shot. I had disarmed one man and was now armed myself. That was good enough for me.
Our car continued down the tracks to Lille in silence like something out of a surrealist film. Myself, seated calmly with a machine gun on my lap. Across the aisle, a forty-something Frenchman tied up by his wrists and ankles like a hog. Behind us, a handful of passengers and an attendant staring at us in frozen horror, wondering what would happen next.
I concentrated on that. It was now five against one and I had surprise on my side, but that probably didn't mean much. I really had no idea what to do, but I had the gun in my hand and knew the solutions would continue to reveal themselves.
When we neared Lille, the train did not slow down. We flew past the Lille platform and I saw that it had been cleared of riders, but not of police. That was good, no? Maybe they would take care of this mess. Or, maybe, they would use snipers to shoot whomever they saw inside the train holding guns.
My grip on the machine gun eased as I got sick to my stomach.
The train angled northwest and I saw that we were heading not to Belgium, but towards Calais and London beyond.
My mind wandered. I thought back to the two dead men in the woods and wondered what their names were. If I was killed, how would they ever be found? If these gangsters were arrested, would one of them crack and lead the Sûreté Nationale to the graves? I also wondered how many people were now dead back at Gare du Nord beyond the burning man and, probably, the old woman with the crooked finger.
"For such desperate men who murder with impunity," I said to the hog-tied gunman. "It was surprisingly easy to take your gun."
He stared at me in surprise and I realized it was the first thing I'd said to him since I'd tackled him.
"I saw you in the Val d'Oise shooting those men," I admitted.
His surprise only increased.
"You?" he said. "Francois thought he heard somebody, but we thought he was crazy."
"I am happy to prove him sane."
The gunman stared at me a moment longer, but then scoffed. He obviously couldn't believe where his day had taken him.
Suddenly, the door to the next car opened and one of the uniformed porters walked in. He looked from his hog-tied friend to me and immediately raised his gun.
I shot him five times, each bullet entering his chest, from my seated position though the recoil smashed my elbow into the side of the armrest opening a bloody gash on my forearm.
"Merde," I swore as the attendant screamed.
The uniformed gunman was on the floor, barely alive and moaning. His gun was still in his hand, and he nodded around like a drunken cobra as his eyes lolled back into his head. His tied-up comrade stared at me in shock, but said nothing.
I moved over to the uniformed man and gently took his gun away from him. I looked down at his uncomprehending face and felt the urge to apologize, but did not. Anyway, the train was beginning to slow and I was sure the other gunmen had heard the shots. I entered the bathroom situated just behind the door leading to the forward cars as, sure enough, another gunman came running down from the car just ahead and entered our compartment.
The tied-up gunman had time only to utter a useless, "Là!" before I came out from the bathroom and smashed the butt of my gun into his face, which sent him sprawling into the luggage compartment just opposite. Blood poured out of a large wound at his temple and I thought I had cracked his skull. I reached down and took away his gun, too.
Three down, three to go.
The train continued to slow as we neared Calais, but then I looked out the window and saw we were still going too fast to actually stop at the Calais Frethun station where a number of police seemed to be coming to the same conclusion.
We whipped past the platform and around another curve, but were now coming to a stop. I heard the sound of helicopters overhead. We passed under a bridge, but then came to a halt just past it. Suddenly, all the doors opened.
"Everyone off! Now!!! Or you'll be shot!!!" came a voice speaking in English over the speaker that I recognized as Everard's. He then switched to French. "Chacun outré du train!!"
The passengers did not have to be asked twice. Everyone flooded off the train, scattering up the sides of the grassy hills on either side of the tracks and into the farmland just beyond. I moved to the nearest door and gingerly stepped out of the train and looked ahead, seeing that we had stopped just before the tunnel that ran under the English Channel. There were at least a hundred people fleeing from the train—passengers, but also the kidnapped Eurostar employees, security guards and customs agents. Police vehicles swept towards us across the grass. The helicopters remained aloft.
It had only been a few seconds before the train began moving again, the front few cars quickly disappearing into the tunnel. I glanced up to the fields and spied, among the fleeing passengers, Everard, his comrade from the Viarmes platform and the second uniformed man. They were dragging with them two Asian men in suits, the uniformed man carrying what looked like a heavy valise.
Leaving the tied-up gunman protesting angrily behind, I hopped out of the car, carrying now two machine guns, and raced after Everard. Though the police on the hillsides clearly had their hands full, I did not go unnoticed.
"Alors!! Alors!" cried one of the officers, in an accent that suggested he was a local who had probably figured all the gunmen should still be on the train.
I ignored him, however, and chased after Everard.
They made good time through the fields, putting many meters between themselves and the other passengers and, it seemed, they'd been paid little or no mind. There were still helicopters in the air, but the gangsters were keeping themselves concealed under the few trees that ran along the road as they went. It didn't take me long to realize where they were heading.
The beaches at Calais were famous even to me as they were the place, due to their proximity to England, Hitler believed the invasion of Europe would begin during World War II, when in actuality, the Allied forces landed to the south in Normandy. It was also the perfect place to dig the Channel tunnel for the same reason.
As I crested a last hill, leaving the scrubby inland and reaching sand, I saw two boats. A Zodiac was beached on the shore while a much larger yacht was anchored offshore. Everard was forcing the two Asians to move the Zodiac towards the surf. They did so clumsily in their tailored suits and dress shoes as Everard looked back up the hill, spying me immediately.
He walked a little ways away from the men, raised his machine gun and began firing. Because of the noise of the ocean, I didn't hear the gunfire at first, but I did see the muzzle flash and managed to drop to the sand as the first couple of bullets hit around me, going wide as if he was only trying to scare me away.
But I kept coming.
He continued firing and signaled for the uniformed gunman to do the same. They blasted away at me, their bullets bouncing harmlessly wide as their machine guns weren't much of a distance weapon. I let them waste their ammunition as I got closer and closer, running in a wide arc.
When I was about thirty meters away, I dropped to one knee, raised one of my two machine guns and blasted the uniformed gunman off his feet. I turned the gun to the man from the Viarmes platform and shot him, too, though I thought he might have only been wounded.
Everard looked at me with surprise and fired one more round before realizing his gun was empty. I rose and ran towards him as he went to re-load. I had not really considered what it would be to kill this man as I felt I had gotten to know him over the past couple of days, but he had a second magazine in his gun before I could get close enough to knock him down, so I had to shoot. The burst knocked him off his feet, tore apart his jaw and almost severed his head from his neck. I knew he was dead before he hit the ground.
The two Asian men looked at me in terror, figuring I would shoot them next, but I didn't. I was so curious as to what this was all about that I made a beeline for the valise. When I opened, I saw it contained only newspapers, a couple of magazines, but nothing more. But I had placed enough valises in my cab to know the weight wasn't right.
I broke off the bottom of the case and saw, laid gently inside foam padding cut to accommodate its contents, two printing moulds, the opposite sides of a 500 Euro note. I stared at the mould for a moment taking in its exacting and precise workmanship. I looked up to the Asians who stared back at me guiltily. My gangsters were stealing from counterfeiters and had committed an act of terrorism to do so! Diadji would really shake his head when I presented him with all of this.
I turned and looked back up the beach as the police crested the hill and moved onto the sand. I waved to them, the hero, and dropped my guns. When I saw a man with a rifle drop to one knee, I was momentarily afraid that one of the Asians was using my disarming to get the jump on me.
The first bullet the rifleman fired went through my side and, judging from the cry of one of the counterfeiters, hit him as well. I dropped to my knees and covered the wound, but then a second bullet caught me just below my right nipple, piercing my lung and forcing me to gasp for air.
As I continued to fall, a final bullet struck me directly in the forehead, shattering my skull and entering my brain. I would have thought such a wound would have killed a man instantly, but I was incorrect. I laid down hard as blood poured out through my eyes and onto the sand. The Asian who hadn't been shot was yelling and yelling, his hands in the air. I managed now to see that the second one had only been shot in the leg and wasn't hurt too badly despite the grimace on his face.
Hardly in control of my neck, my head lolled over to the side and I found myself looking out to the ocean and the yacht, which was moving away from the shoreline as a helicopter made its way over to it. I imagined myself picking up my machine guns and swimming out to the yacht, shooting everybody on board that, too.
I laughed a little at this thought. Yeah, if this is what I was shown, then who but me?