From the unpublished works of Solomon Hanson:
Amiens, France, the spring of 1881. At the home of Julian Turleau, I spoke with his butler, Charles. The small knot of a man seemed unusually taken with me and my quest. I could swear we shared some kinship, though I couldn’t tell you how or why I thought so. He wished me well. I missed the famous author by a day. Following my subject to Paris hardly sounded urgent or dangerous. The butler’s worried owl eyes said otherwise.
Paris dusk dims into night. As the sun sets the busy bustling city does not retire tired. She dons glistening gas lit jewelry. The black velvet dress of night hides her weary bones. Tonight she dances in dazzling beauty, daring to forget the work and woes of the day. The cape of shadows drapes over her squalor, drawing attention to her more attractive features.
Solomon ‘Hap’ Hanson approaches the glittering theatre. Julian Turleau is expected to attend tonight. Hap’s recently acquired evening wear manages to look out of place, underwhelming, amongst the finery of those present. He struggles amongst a sea of tuxedos and fine dresses. Beneath an evening mist set aglow by gaslight conversations clutter the air as the handsome herd shuffles into the gilded building. Hap cuts a course through the crowd, scanning for Julian. The colorfully dressed women contrast with a checkerboard of men. Penguins and parrots. Hap laughs aloud, unheard amidst the clamor of the crowd.
Approaching the entrance, masses merge, bodies press together tightly. Competing perfumes and various tobaccos sicken Hap. Fighting to breathe, Hap swims across the current to the outer edge of the mob. The crimson carpeted lobby comes into view briefly. An iron hand clamps down on his left bicep, then the other. Writhing, stamping, Hap’s efforts fail and he inevitably is wrested from the bright lights and crowded streets, toward darkness.
Hap’s assailant shoves him into the dark dingy alley. Aromas, old as the ancient Frankish city itself, wax strong here. Human waste and decaying refuse. Whirling around, Hap searches for his foe.
A familiar figure emerges from the murky shadows. Claude’s dark angular features, framed by jet hair and a goatee, perfect the man’s devilish appearance. His midnight eyes meet Hap’s sea green gaze.
Claude Dufresne, the enigmatic personal assistant to Julian Turleau, seems set against anyone visiting the esteemed author. This second encounter looks to go much worse than the first.
“You are persistent,” Claude growls.
Hap forces a grin. Springing back a step, Hap assumes a boxer’s stance. “And you’re ugly, two reasons why I date more.” Claude is easily thirty pounds heavier, all muscle. Hap drops his guard momentarily. His grin droops. “Do we have to do this?”
“If you are still persistent.”
From around the devil’s moustache a sadistic smile curls. “Good, I end this now.”
Gently Hap removes his jacket. Claude tilts his head in disbelief, frowns. Folding the crisp clean garment, Hap explains. “At least let me save my clothes from a beating, it’s borrowed.”
Scornfully, Claude spits. “You fight like an Englishman.”
Hap snaps back. “You don’t know me.” He winks. “I’m full of surprises.”
Hap’s clenched fists rise. Shuffling in a wide arc, he keeps his feet shifting. Claude’s stance is more relaxed, loose. They circle slowly. Tighter they turn. Feints, half-hearted attacks flash. Quickly, Hap jabs. Quicker, the Frenchman deflects Hap’s strike with a loud slap. Claude’s leg flexes oddly, a kick withheld.
Hap attacks again, slower this time. Claude blocks faster, following with a lightning kick. Hap blocks the blow, barely. Hap spies Claude’s concern in his widened eyes. Hap chuckles. He’s bitten off more than he bargained for.
A third time Hap comes in with the same punch. He pulls it short. Claude falls for the feint. Quickly Hap leans in, connecting an explosive left cross. The blow lands hard, jarring the man‟s jaw. Claude falls to the ground.
“I told you, I’m full of surprises,” Hap quips triumphantly. “Have you had enough or do you want some more?”
Without a word, from the alley floor, Hap’s devilish adversary swings his feet in a wide windmill circle. One foot hits Hap behind the knee. It buckles. He lands with a dull thud, crumpled atop his own legs. Before Hap reacts, a sharp blow collapses his throat. While he battles to breathe, Claude flips to his feet. In a blur, he strikes Hap across the chin. Hap‟s limbs go limp. Blackness seeps in from all sides. He feels his lungs let out a great involuntary sigh.