When Nick and Gaspard returned to their room, François was waiting. He was sitting on the bed.
“You’re taking a chance sneaking in here, François.”
“I have someone keeping an eye on Ryan’s every move. It’s time to formulate a plan.”
“Now’s a good time for me to take a walk,” Gaspard said.
“It’s better for you just to wait downstairs. Ines has plenty of magazines for you tor ead in the living room.”
Gaspard smiled and left the two men.
“I plan to stay here a while once this case is over,” Nick said.
“That should be possible. No one knows you or your part in our rescue attempt. If we can keep it that way then you’ll be fine. I can see you’ve got a good reason to stay behind. Gaspard is decent and very easy on the eyes.”
“What about you and Ines?”
“Ines and I will have to disappear. She’s spoken to the powers that be and they’ll allow her to retire to her country home. I’ve been invited too, by her.”
“Will you go?” Nick said.
“Yes. It’s time, old friend. I must admit there’s always been attraction between she and I. It’s just the memory of my wife that kept me from pursuing anyone else.”
“Anyone of the female gender you mean,” Nick said, smiling.
“Well, I’m no saint, Nick. I needed some sort of release.”
“Glad I was able to provide that for you.”
François kissed Nick on each cheek. “You know you were more to me than that, but things have changed. You deserve more than what I can give.”
“And Ines? What does she deserve?”
“A friend maybe even a sometime lover. The same thing I deserve. Neither of us need more than that. We’ve both had great loves in our lives. Now it’s time for something else. You may have found you great love. Time will tell.”
Nick kissed François on the lips. “I’ll never forget you, François. So what’s the plan to get the twins out of there tomorrow.”
“As Ines’s bodyguard you’ll be able to accompany her. The twins will be in the back room. You can easily make your way in, take out the guards and get them out. There’s a staircase that leads to the roof. From there you can use the fire escape to climb down the outside of the building where I’ll be waiting in a car. We’ll have an escort to the airport.”
“And then what happens to the twins?”
“I contacted their family as you asked and they’ll have a private plane and security waiting.”
“Great, seems like we’re all ready then,” Nick said.
* * * *
The next day Nick and Ines left to attend the auction. They decided Gaspard would be safe at Ines’s home by himself but François made sure there was an undercover policeman looking after him.
The auction house was in a large old building on the canal. Ines was dressed in a chic white jacket, slacks and wide-brimmed white hat. She carried a huge white oversized bag which held sharp wire and chain cutters. I was in a dark jacket over a black T-shirt and jeans. Dark glasses hid my eyes.
“Are you ready, Ines?”
“Yes, but be sure to follow my lead, Nick.”
We were allowed to enter the building with no fuss. Ines was well known and treated like a queen. Nick saw a couple of men walk up and greet her with kisses on her cheeks. The room was packed with chairs around a small stage. On stage was a petite blonde woman, nude and being led by a chain which attached to a collar at her neck.
“Nick, they’ve begun the auction early. There’s no time to lose,” Ines whispered in Nick’s ear. “I’ll use my knockout spray on the first guard.”
He followed her quickly through a hall and down some stairs. There was a single large bodyguard in front of the door. Ines caught his attention and quickly sprayed him with her spray. Once he’d fallen, Nick dragged him into the room which was empty.
Nick looked up at Ines with questions but she just grabbed his arm and led him to a door in the far corner.
Once inside they saw four people dressed in what looked like long T-shirts. They were chained to the walls and had hoods over their heads. Ines quickly pulled the hoods off the first two people, one of whom was the girl Nick was hired to find. Taking the cutters from Ines he went to work on the chains while speaking calmly to the girl.
“I work for your parents, I’m gonna get you out of here. If you understand nod but don’t say anything.”
The girl nodded then pointed to the last male in the row. Ines pulled off his hood and told him what Nick had told the sister. The two looked tired but not particularly roughed up. Why damage the goods, Nick thought.
Once the siblings were free, Ines led them all to the stairs and they raced toward the roof.
“Things are going too smoothly, Ines,” Nick said, from the rear.
“It’s the way people in charge want it to go,” Ines said, opening the door to the roof.
“Yes, indeed,” Ryan said as soon as Nick stepped onto the rooftop patio. “I was wondering how things would go down. I didn’t think they would use you Ines. I brought a friend with me ” He pushed Gaspard in front of him and put a gun to his head. “Did you have fun with Gaspard, detective? Why state the obvious, he’s an incredible Frenchman and a true artist.”
Nick tried to think of a plan. Ines had moved to a corner and was standing in front of the twins. The patio overlooked the canal but they would’ve never made jump into the water.
“Did you kill the cop looking after Gaspard,” Nick said.
“No need, he worked for me,” Ryan said.
Gaspard took the opportunity to bite Ryan’s hand and escape from his grasp.
Nick tackled Ryan and they began rolling around on the patio taking punches at one another.
“Ines get them out of here,” Nick said.
Ines started walking to the fire escape, helping the siblings.
Ryan managed to get up and was aiming his gun at Gaspard.
“If I can’t have him then no one will,” Ryan said.
Nick jumped up and tried to shield Gaspard with his body when he heard a gunshot. Ryan clutched his chest and fell over the patio railing and into the canal below. Turning back, Nick saw François with his gun drawn.
“Let’s move,” François said. “The van will be coming back around to pick us up—all of us.” He ran to help the others down the fire escape.
Nick followed behind with his arm under a dazed Gaspard.
By the time they all made it down the fire escape a gray van was waiting for them. Everyone got into it and headed toward the airport.
* * * *
The plane took Nick, Gaspard, François and Ines to a small island several hours away. While Gaspard and Ines were getting settled in Ines’s comfortable beachfront home, Nick and François walked barefoot on the beach.
“Sorry it wasn’t safe leaving you and Gaspard in Amsterdam. Ryan may have friends there who may want to do you both harm. Besides I think this place could keep a painter occupied for a while. And Ines told me she picked out a perfect little cottage at the other end of the beach for you two.”
“I get the hint, François. You and your lady need space. Anyhow, thanks for saving my ass in Amsterdam.”
“It’s an ass worth saving. Brought me lots of enjoyment for a season. And Ines and I were thinking you and Gaspard needed time alone.”
“Thanks,” Nick said.
“You put yourself between that bullet and Gaspard. I wonder what that means?” François said.
“I got it bad, Don’t I.”
“Your words not mine,” Francois said. “Now get the hell outta here.”
Nick and Gaspard drove to their cottage in a jeep Ines had ready for their use. They held hands the whole way.
“I’m hot!” Nick said, running into the house and leaving a pile of clothes behind.
He and Gaspard found a hammock in the back yard and lay naked in each others arms.
“Think you could be happy here for a week or two. It’s no Amsterdam but we do have the beach and—”
“And each other,” Gaspard said.
* * * *
It was a cold night in London. Marcel was shivering. A year had passed since the events of that night. Exactly one year and then he’d gotten the note.
“Hello, Marcel, ready to cum at midnight?” A familiar voice said.
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