Marcus, perspiring, loosened his collar as he shut his uncle's door and scanned Boulevard Arago. In the humid afternoon, a woman walked her schnauzer; a car radio blared news into the velvet air. No taxi at the stand.
Et voilà, Marcus would pocket the taxi fare and catch the bus. His uncle would never know. Marcus turned onto narrow rue Pascal and hurried through the dim tunnel created by the street that passed above it a block later. The tunnel echoed with his footsteps and with the rumbling of the cars passing overhead. The old notebook heavy in his backpack, he headed up the stairs to Boulevard de Port-Royal. Marcus was almost at the bus stop. He savored the thought of the money in his pocket.
His cell phone vibrated. His uncle. He ignored it.
Marcus scanned the sidewalk. Karine was standing near the bus stop and waved. Another call from his uncle. He ignored this one, too.
"You're late." A big pout on her red lips. He eyed her lace camisole top and hip-hugging jeans. "My friend's letting us use her place, remember?"
Marcus pulled her close. "We're going to a hotel. No attic room with bedbugs in the mattress today."
Karine shook her head. "On your allowance?"
He glanced at the time. "I've got to take care of a quick job first."
Karine's mascaraed eyes gleamed. "Why wait?"
What was the rush for the old fart—would an hour matter? "You're right. Meet me at the hotel on Cinq Diamants. Let me stash this first."
Karine's perfume filled the hotel room. Marcus laughed as he came up from under the duvet damp with their sweat. His laugh was cut short as a huge male arm caught him in a choke hold from behind. He gasped for air, tried to grab at the arm around his neck, but his wrists were yanked behind him, then flex-cuffed so tight the plastic cut his flesh. He was dragged off the bed and dropped facedown on the carpet.
The contents of his backpack rained down on his naked back. "Where is it?" a voice said.
Fear paralyzed him. He couldn't breathe.
A kick to his ribs. Then another. "Where did you put it? Tell me or I'll keep it up."
"Of course you do. Where'd you hide it?"
All this over a stupid old notebook? But he couldn't fail his uncle. Maybe he could talk his way out of this, get this animal to untie him and then...what, jump out the window? What about Karine? "Let me up...and I'll..."
He coughed into the beige rug, his mouth furred from inhaling the dust and pilling. The flex-cuffs, slick with his blood, bit into his
wrists like wire.
Karine was screaming...or was that him?
He couldn't see anything but beige and then the blindfold. His body was jerked up and slapped across the desk, the impact nearly snapping his spinal cord.
"I'll ask again. Where is it?"
"What do you want?" Marcus asked.
"Cut to the chase, kid. Then your fingernails will stay on..."