“Do you think it’s a good idea for us to just be out here in the open like this?” Drew asked, scanning the surrounding area with a wary eye.
“It can’t be helped if we want to talk to Maurice,” Sophie told him.
Even at this time of night, the pedestrian plaza under the Eiffel Tower was sprinkled with a healthy smattering of tourists. If any Syndicate operatives were in the area, they would have little trouble blending in.
“Drew has a point,” Gabriel said. He patted the bulge of the gun underneath his suit jacket. “I think I’ll take a look around, just to be safe.”
Drew scanned their surroundings again and frowned. “What are we doing out here anyway? I don’t see any projections anywhere.”
Claire and Sophie exchanged a knowing look.
“Just give it a minute,” Claire told him.
“Don’t be in such a hurry,” Sophie added. “You definitely do not want to miss this show.”
Drew’s frown deepened as he glanced down at the clock on his phone. “Do we really have time for a show?”
Claire shrugged. “We have to be here anyway, so we might as well enjoy it.”
“I’d feel better if you told me why we…”
Before Drew could finish his complaint, the golden floodlights illuminating the Eiffel Tower shut off, plunging the area into complete darkness. Drew reached out and took Claire’s hand.
“There’s nothing to worry about,” she assured him, giving his hand a squeeze.
Before their eyes had time to adjust to the darkness, thousands of flashes of light began a sparkling dance, chasing each other playfully around the massive, darkened tower. This was the Eiffel Tower’s famous nightly light show.
Every night since the turn of the new millennium, at the top of each hour after sundown, 20,000 LED bulbs accented the famous golden-hued floodlighting for five minutes. For the final show of the night at 2:00 a.m., the floodlights on the tower were turned off, providing a pitch-black canvas for the dazzling light display.
Claire had timed their arrival at the tower so they would be there for the final show. Despite the high stakes of their investigation, she still wanted Drew to experience at least some of Paris’s touristy charms.
Five minutes after the sparkling had started, the LED lights blinked off for the final time and the golden floodlighting gradually returned to illuminate the tower.
“That was really impressive,” Drew admitted. “I’d say it’s a ‘must see’ for tourists, but that’s not really what we are, is it?” He looked from Sophie to Claire. “Shouldn’t we be trying to figure out The Syndicate’s next move?”
Claire gave his hand another squeeze. “That’s why we’re here. Maurice might be able to help.”
Drew looked around again. “Where is this Maurice?”
“Just wait,” Claire urged.
“Wait for what?”
Sophie grinned. “You’ll see.”
Drew started to protest again but stopped mid-sentence as a distant sound cut through the stillness of the night. He glanced around, a frown of confusion creasing his brow. “What’s that?”
Claire and Sophie just smiled at him.
The sound grew gradually louder, eventually drawing Drew’s attention upward. In an instant it became clear. The sound was the unmistakably tortured scream of someone who knew they were plummeting to their death.
Drew jumped to his right just as a translucent form slammed into the ground next to him. “What the…?!?”
Sophie burst out laughing and Claire couldn’t resist a smile.
“Drew, meet Maurice Arsenault,” Claire said, motioning toward the projection on the ground.
The translucent form slowly stood to his feet and dusted off the front of his aviator-style jumpsuit before adjusting the harness on a set of canvas wings attached to his back. He spotted Sophie, and his expression brightened.
“Ah, ma chère Sophie,” he exclaimed, smiling broadly and kissing the Bureau agent once on each cheek. “Je suis content de vous voir.” (I’m happy to see you.)
“Et moi aussi,” Sophie replied. “Vous connaissez Claire?” (Me too. Do you know Claire?)
Maurice extended both hands in Claire’s direction. “Mais, oui. Mademoiselle Abelard, ça fait trop longtemps.” (It’s been too long.)
“Vous êtes trop gentil, Maurice,” Claire replied with a warm smile. She motioned to Drew. “Maurice, I’d like you to meet Drew Mitchell. Drew is a new agent with the Bureau.”
The two men nodded in greeting.
“Maurice was a very famous aviator and daredevil in the 1920s,” Sophie told Drew. “His final stunt would certainly have assured him a place in the history books.”
“If only I had succeeded,” Maurice said with a sad shake of his head. He turned to Drew and stretched out his arms, revealing the intricate webbing of material that composed his wings. “I was to be the first man to fly across the Seine from the second deck of the Eiffel Tower.” He sighed. “It would have been glorious.”
Drew nodded. “At least you had the guts to try.”
“Merci, mon ami,” Maurice said with another nod in Drew’s direction. He bent over and collected his goggles from where they had fallen. “So,” he continued, “can I assume you have come to see me tonight on some Bureau business?”
Sophie smiled. “I wish we could say it’s just a social visit.”
Before Sophie could tell him why they were there, Gabriel returned.
“It looks like the coast is clear,” he announced, nodding a greeting to Maurice.
Claire felt some of the tension leave Drew’s grip, though he didn’t release her hand. They had been through too much recently to completely let their guard down, even with an armed Gabriel looking out for them.
“Maurice,” Claire began, getting the conversation back on track. “We need your help with something.”
“But, of course,” the aviator assured her, “I will be happy to help in any way I can.”
Claire looked at Sophie, unsure how to explain the situation without causing the projection any unnecessary alarm.
Sophie cleared her throat. “There have been some very strange things happening in town, and they’re beginning to impact both the world of projections and the world of the living.” She paused to consider her words. “We would like to ask you to keep your eyes and ears open the next few days to see if you hear any talk, in either realm, about a group of men who might be planning something.”
Maurice was the ideal projection for this assignment. His loop of activity often attracted projections that were tethered nearby. Though the outcome of his stunt was always the same, they still couldn’t resist coming to watch and enjoy the spectacle. And thanks to the millions of tourists who visited the tower every year, he was also in a perfection position to overhear any pertinent conversations among the living.
Maurice’s eyebrows went up. “And exactly what do you think these men might be planning?”
“I wish we could give you some idea,” Claire admitted.
“Could it possibly have something to do with the disturbance we felt earlier today?” Maurice asked.
Claire and Drew exchanged a concerned look.
“You felt that disturbance?” Drew asked.
Maurice nodded. “I can’t say it was entirely unpleasant, but it was definitely unlike anything I’ve experienced before.”
Claire looked at Sophie and Gabriel. “The Élysée Palace is at least two miles from here. If The Syndicate’s device has that kind of range, they could be operating from pretty much anywhere in the city.”
Maurice slowly shook his head. “I’m not sure what the Élysée Palace has to do with any of this, but the disturbance I’m referring to did not come from that direction.”
Claire recognized the same concern she was feeling mirrored in the faces of her fellow agents. A sickening knot began to form in the pit of her stomach.
“I don’t want to sound disrespectful,” she told Maurice, “but are you sure about that?”
He put on his goggles and gave a firm nod. “Absolutely.”
“What direction did it come from?” Drew asked.
Maurice thought for a second then pointed toward the southeast. “I am certain the sensations came from somewhere over there, though I could not begin to say exactly where.”
Claire looked across the Champ de Mars, in the direction he had indicated. “Could you at least tell if it was close by or not?”
Maurice adjusted his goggles over his eyes. “Alas, I cannot.” He moved his arms slowly up and down and lifted both knees in turn. “I truly wish I could be of more assistance, but I’m afraid I do not know anything more.”
“You’ve been a tremendous help,” Sophie assured him. “If you feel any other disturbances, or if you hear anything helpful, please reach out to us.”
“Indeed, I will,” Maurice assured her. He kissed both female agents on the cheek, then nodded to Drew and Gabriel. “Now, if you all will excuse me, I feel I must return to the second deck and give this flight another attempt.”
“Bonne chance!” Sophie called out as the projection began to fade from view. (Good luck!)
Once Maurice’s projection had disappeared, Claire turned to her fellow agents. “How is it possible there was another energy disturbance that we didn’t know anything about?”
“Well,” Gabriel said, “we did have our hands pretty full earlier.”
Sophie frowned. “Do you think the attack on President Lavigne was a distraction of some sort?”
Drew shook his head. “That would be a pretty elaborate distraction. Remember, it wasn’t just the French President who was attacked.”
Claire looked toward the southeast. “Well, whatever it was, it has to be part of The Syndicate’s plan.” She felt her pulse quicken. “Which means we’ve got to look into it.”
“Well, then,” Drew said, “I guess we better go find some more projections to talk to.”
“I know those men,” Aaron said from behind Claire as they entered the room. His voice was barely above a whisper. “They’re the Syndicate operatives I’ve been working with the last few weeks. The big one is named Draper and the other one is Galvan.” He frowned at Claire. “They’re bad news.”
Claire studied the two men. There wasn’t anything particularly menacing about them or their demeanor. If it wasn’t for the oily feel of the projection energy surrounding them, Claire wouldn’t have known there was anything unusual about them at all.
“Miss Abelard,” the man named Draper said. “We were hoping you’d find your way here tonight.”
Claire kept her distance. “You’ve been waiting for us?”
The other man nodded. “Well, we’ve been waiting for you.” He smiled at Aaron. “Thank you for bringing her to us.”
Claire whirled around to face Aaron. “You ass!” she hissed.
Aaron threw his hands up in a defensive gesture. “I swear, I didn’t set you up. I had no idea they were going to be here.” He motioned to the Syndicate operatives. “Draper, tell her!”
The two men looked at each other. “As much as I hate to let this little weasel off the hook,” Draper said, “it’s true. He didn’t know anything about our plans tonight.”
Galvan smirked. “And that wasn’t by accident.” He looked at Aaron. “We knew once you had made contact with her, it would only be a matter of time before you led her to us.”
“Beyond that,” Draper added, “you’re really of no use to us whatsoever.”
Aaron glared at him. “I told you everything I know about the Bureau.”
Draper laughed. “You don’t even know enough to know how much you don’t know about the Bureau.”
Aaron looked confused, but he didn’t have long to figure out what the man meant. Claire watched in horror as Galvan removed a handgun from a shoulder holster and shot Aaron in the stomach.
Claire gasped. Drew took a step toward the two men but stopped short when a half dozen translucent forms floated into the room. It was Jean Lafitte and his pirate crew. Their energy carried that oily feel Claire was becoming accustomed to, and their vacant expressions confirmed they were clearly under the influence of Beguiling Acuity.
“Well, we wanted to find Jean Lafitte,” Jeff said unenthusiastically.
“Their energy is gray,” Drew said as he took a step back so he was standing directly next to Claire.
“And you must be Drew,” Draper said, his eyebrows raised. “We’ve heard about you as well. Not as gifted as Miss Abelard, I think, but potentially still useful in your own way.” The man turned his attention to Jeff. “This one, however, is of no use to us.”
Without any warning, Jean Lafitte floated across the room, closing the distance before any of them could react. He wrapped his hands around Jeff’s neck and began to squeeze. Jeff had no way to defend himself against the attack.
“Jean,” Claire yelled, hoping her years of friendship with the pirate would somehow get through to him.
Jean didn’t loosen his grip. He didn’t even respond to Claire’s voice.
She tried to use Beguiling Acuity, but quickly realized it was no use. Whatever they had done to him, she couldn’t reach him.
She turned her attention back to the two Syndicate operatives. “Stop it!”
The two men simply smiled at her, clearly enjoying themselves.
She took a step toward Jean but stopped short when the remaining pirates began moving in her direction. They slowly encircled her and Drew but didn’t attack. Without needing to speak, she and Drew instinctively stood back-to-back, the best way to keep their eyes on all the pirates.
“I’m going to try to manipulate Jean’s energy,” Drew whispered over his shoulder.
Claire nodded. He had been able to free Bettie from Vogel’s control at Ashton Villa. She prayed it would work now.
Drew extended his hand slightly in Jean Lafitte’s direction. Claire could sense the moment he made the connection and for a brief instant she felt hope that they could get Jean back. Her hopes were quickly dashed, though, when Drew doubled over in pain.
“Drew!” She bent down next to him, careful to keep her attention on the pirates slowly closing in around them. “What is it?”
“There’s something wrong with their energy,” he told her through gritted teeth.
She reached out to touch him but pulled her hand away quickly once she did. The malevolent chill that went down her spine told her all she needed to know. “You can’t manipulate it.”
Drew shook his head. “Not without it affecting me, too.”
Claire didn’t ask him to elaborate. He didn’t need to.
She glared at the two Syndicate agents. They seemed almost amused by the scene playing out in front of them.
She looked across the room to where Aaron was lying against the wall, a dark crimson pool forming on the wooden floor beneath him.
A wave of anger began building inside her.
She looked at Jeff, slowly having the life choked out of him by Jean Lafitte.
She looked at Drew, who was now on one knee, doing his best to fight against whatever effects the strange energy was having on him.
Finally, she looked back at the two Syndicate agents with their smug expressions.
A familiar sensation began to stir inside her. This time, she was prepared for it. Remembering the advice Vogel had given her only days before, she closed her eyes and allowed the emotions and adrenaline to flow through her.
A warm glow began in the middle of her chest and grew.
Claire embraced it. She allowed all of her fear and frustration to well up inside of her until finally it forced its way out through every cell in her body…
“When God calls you to be an evangelist, you can’t do anything else…”
As a young boy delivering papers in a small town in Missouri, Scott Nute had no idea God had an amazing calling for his life.
Growing up as the child of an alcoholic father and as the victim of childhood sexual abuse, Scott searched for ways to numb his pain. His adolescent years saw him engaging in self-destructive behaviors before coming to Christ as a freshman in college. After a short stint as a minor-league baseball player, Scott surrendered to God’s call to be an evangelist, dedicating his life to sharing the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
As an adult, Scott has spent more than two decades working through the pain of the emotional and psychological wounds he suffered as a boy. Though the recovery process has been long and difficult, God has been faithful to bring Scott to a place of healing. As a portrait of redemption that only God can paint, Scott’s wounds have become an integral part of his ministry as he reaches out to help others who are hurting.
Scott’s story of redemption and recovery serves as a vivid reminder that God often chooses to use broken lives so His glory can shine more fully through the scars.
Now available in hardcopy and Kindle format from Amazon.com
I just found out that Project Lachesis made it to Round 2 of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest in the category of General Fiction! Click here to check it out if you want to see the results!
The first round was based on the pitch (which you can read under the “Fiction” tab on this website). The next round will be based on an excerpt of the first 4000+ words of the novel. Now I just have to wait until April 14 to see if we’re moving on to Round 3.
If I make it, you can believe that I will start shamelessly promoting my entry! In Round 3, readers are asked to go to the website & download any of the entries they want, then post a review and rate the entry on a scale of 1-5. Based on these reviews, only 5 entries in each category will advance to the Semi-final Round.