In the Paris bistro, Hap slams another stiff drink. Wryly he wraps up his odyssey thus far. “So I hopped on a steamer for France to get my ass kicked by a gorilla in fancy clothes.”
Charles begins to smile. He shuffles his chair closer. “I am glad you told me the truth.”
Hap pulls back, frowning in disbelief. “Why are you so damned happy about it?”
Charles benign smile widens. “Because you have proven my initial impression of you correct.” Then Charles’ gaze deepens. He pleads. “Please Solomon, please reconsider. There is more to Julian’s work than steel. He will need a man like you. What could I do to convince you to carry on?”
“First off, start by telling me what’s going on?”
Charles grimaces, gazing into the past. “The adventure started for Julian over two years ago. Julian sought something greater from his life, real adventure. He locked himself in his makeshift laboratory for days on end. After a breakthrough he invited others to join him in some quest. He needed the help of entrepreneurs and scientists. As more strangers came to Amiens, Julian became concerned about protecting his project. He hired a local man, Claude, to maintain the security and secrecy. Last year Julian began leaving the estate for extended periods. He spoke of the impact of his project. „The world shall be changed forever‟ he said often.”
Hap’s eyes narrow. Absentmindedly he runs his hand through his bronze hair until a sharp pain reminds him of the encounter in the alley. “Who all is involved?”
Charles tips up his glass, finishing it. He shivers briefly. “I do not know, but from what I hear, Julian is overwhelmed with troublesome, not so altruistic men.” The small wrinkled man’s eyes slide left, right.
“Something wrong?” Hap asks.
A shy smile flashes. “I want another drink.”
Hap flags down their waiter, orders another round. Charles takes a measured sip before continuing. “There is a Russian, Nikolai. He is a twisted genius.”
“Who is Julian entertaining tonight?”
Charles looks across the street as a wave of well clad Parisians pour out of the theatre. Charles reaches out with a boney claw of a hand, clutching Hap’s forearm. He retreats into the bistro, tugging Hap from his seat.
“What the… ?”
Hap then sees what sends Charles scurrying into the shadows. Claude emerges from the crowd, leaving a wake of disoriented theatre goers behind him. With a sharp whistle, Claude hails a cab. The elite in the crowd cast disdainful glances as a carriage races in, blocking Hap‟s view. When it whisks away, the devilish brute is gone.
“So why me, Charles?” Hap begins.
“You are a dreamer. I see it in you. The skullduggery laid upon you is ill-fitting. It does not suit your nature.”
Hap scowls incredulously. “What the hell? And how do you know?”
“I do not know how I know, but I do.”
“Oh, really? So what then does suit my nature? ”
“You will make the right decision when the time comes. I suspect you always do.”
Hap bites his lower lip. His brow curls down over dark green eyes. He cannot help but smile. “So I need to forget the original reason I came here, try to reach Julian, and save him from some unspecified danger?”
“Why me? Oh, because I‟m a dreamer. You know that sounds stupid, right?”
Patting Hap’s hand, Charles explains. “Your interest in seeking the truth, in seeing good prevail over evil, is what Julian needs. You will save his adventure from itself.”
Hap waves the waiter down, soon another round of drinks arrive. He quickly upends his glass. He turns the glass over in his hand, staring into it. There could be no going back to Pittsburgh if he followed Charles’ plan. No more coughing and squinting through the soot-laden fog. No more Allen Brazelton judging his character. No more Caroline. That last one sticks in his craw. Looking up from his empty glass, his eyes meets Charles’. The frail little man silently pleads his case.
Hap nods. “I’ll do it. If it’s anything like you’re saying, I’d be a damn fool to pass this up.”
Charles’s grin grows quickly, broadly. The older man pushes his drink across the table. “I shan’t be needing this.”
“I didn’t order it for you,” Hap says, winking and downing the drink quickly. “Well I’d better get going then if I’m going to catch them.”
Charles’ grin diminishes. “Indeed.”
“By the way, you never did tell me how you knew my nature.”
Looking up from the table, Charles’ expression warms. “One recognizes his own kind in time.”