Chapter 16

“Mu-Mu-Mu-My Chelóna”

Three Hours Later

Backroom of the Frozen Food Warehouse

Richard did his best to keep the blood dripping from his wrists in check. The handcuffs were applied far too tightly, so after three hours locked in a dank space that smelled of decaying fish guts, he decided that showing up unannounced was probably not the most winning strategy one could exercise. They had removed his shoes, socks, jacket, keys, and wallet before threading the cuffs through the open back of the chair to ensure any escape attempt would be forded with a cheap piece of lawn furniture in close tow. He did his best to get his toes out of whatever cheap aquatic genocide was swathed across the concrete and hastily sprayed into a nearby drain.

He looked up at the ceiling and said, “should have just gone to Cinnabon,” under his breath.

The door opened with hesitancy, as if walking on eggshells about an unprovoked three-hour kidnapping, with no explanation, was a topic that could be danced around with intricate kindness. Harriet slowly lumbered across the length of the room, setting her jacket on a nearby crate of descaling tools. She pulled a second crate up close and took a seat right next to Richard.

Eliot followed her in, careful not to imply he had any feelings whatsoever under a gruff retired cop’s exterior. He took a stance behind Harriet just out of range of the overhead light.

Richard rolled his eyes and scooted the plastic chair closer to the two people that recently entered the room. “Could one of you kindly explain why I’m handcuffed to a chair like a criminal?”

“Are you?” Harriet asked with more than an unwelcome hint of accusation.

“Am I what?” He replied.

“A criminal?”

“I’m sorry, can we do a felony headcount real quick? Which one of us tied a guy to a chair after inviting him?”

Eliot stepped presumptively in between Richard and Harriet. “We didn’t invite you. Answer the question.”

Richard shook his head in disbelief, favoring an arm that was falling asleep from resting in such an odd position on the chair. He scowled at Eliot. “No. No, I am not a criminal. I am friend’s with Paul Revere and he asked me to be here!” he shouted with a growing indignation toward his kidnappers.

Harriet spoke in a low droll. “What did he say?”

“What do you mean?”

She persisted. “What did he say, exactly, about us? You obviously knew where to go to find us. It stands to reason he would mention finding another Richard—”

The man in the chair cut her off. “Why am I another Richard? Just because you got some snot-snozzed little scrubber bangin’ about in between eating an unhealthy amount of Spaghettios?”

The former detective raised a suspicious eyebrow. “And how did you know he liked Spaghettios so much?”

The indignation manifested itself across the face of Richard the Lionheart once more. “Because I like Spaghettios so much, you moron. Weren’t you a police officer?”

Eliot began scribbling on a pad of paper, pretending to disseminate the fascinating data they were collecting while in actuality attempting to save face through silence. He turned to Harriet and gave her an affirmative nod to continue.

She pulled in her brow and turned her mouth to the side as she made strong eye contact with Richard in the chair. “I can assure you that insulting language will not get you out of that chair any faster.”

“What? What will get me out of this chair faster? To recap, you pulled guns on me, clocked me in the face, which, thanks by the way, and then you handcuff me to this chair for three hours without telling me a damn thing about it!” He yelled back at his accusers.

Harriet took a moment to keep her emotional state as flat as she could. “I’m sorry you have to be in the chair. Even if you didn’t realize it, your arrival put us all in a great deal of danger. So, I’ll ask again. What did Paul tell you about us?”

He shot back with a puzzled sigh. “What kind of danger?”

Eliot interjected. “It doesn’t matter.”

Richard crumpled his face into an annoyed mess and shook his head back at the former detective. “A great deal of danger that doesn’t matter? Remember that I am no different from you. I’m a returner too, and with Paul and—,” he took a moment. “Marie. With Paul and Marie so viciously attacked, I’d like to know if I am in danger here. Is someone trying to kill us?”

“I think you know that someone is trying to kill us,” Eliot replied.

Harriet brought her arm back and socked Richard right across the jaw as hard as she could. He reeled in the direction of the punch and blinked his right eye a couple of times, letting the blood drip from his mouth for a moment. His gaze returned to the woman who had just struck him seemingly out of nowhere. “So, ow!

“I wanted to see how you took a punch,” she grinned back.

“I fought in wars my entire life, including the second crusade—”

“Third crusade,” Eliot cut him off with a corrective immediacy.

Richard smiled. “So you did do your homework?”

Eliot Ness dropped a manila folder onto the floor with around two hundred pages of printed documentation sticking out of it in all directions. “I have information on every returner we’ve been able to identify. So, I spent some time on the internet while you were stewing in here.” He looked over the man handcuffed before him. “You were one of five sons, well, of five legitimate sons of Henry the Second, and spent most of your life picking fights with whatever trifling idiotic nonsense would make your Daddy accept you for who you were. When that didn’t take and he passed on, you, despite being the middle child, somehow rose to become quite a reviled ruler of England, some would say one of the most reviled—which is no small feat in that country. You spent almost all of your time in France, even refusing to learn the English language, the language of the country you were supposedly ruling, in favor of continuing the charade as the bastard son of France. If I’m not mistaken, you were once quoted as saying that you would have sold London if you could have.” Silence sat awkwardly between the two of them for a moment before Eliot blurted out, “Wikipedia is my jam.”

Richard spit a little more blood onto the ground. “What can I say, Viva La France,” he replied with a wicked grin. His eyes drifted back to Harriet. “So Harriet, did I pass the punch test?”

She buckled her fist, casually leaned to her rear, and struck him across the jaw once more. Harriet shook her hand as the pain subsided. “Still gathering data.”

The blood was falling from his nose to the ground at an alarming rate. Richard took a moment as he stared at the ground, trying to make the pounding in his head go away. He returned to his normal posture in the chair and just let the blood flow down his face and onto his shirt. The look he was giving Harriet was no longer of a jovial nature. “Are you trying to get a rise out of me? Just say what you’ve been wanting to say this whole time.”

Her knees buckled for a brief moment as it sunk in they were really about to have this conversation, right out in the open. “We both think you’re the one killing the returners.”

Richard laughed, swearing to himself in French for a brief moment. “Voila! There it is.”

Eliot cleared his throat loudly and purposefully. “It stands to reason that the killer is a returner his or herself. Once I compiled a psych profile on you—”

“A psych profile you compiled using Wikipedia,” sneered Richard.

He continued. “Coupled with your random appearance and the numerous, numerous, conversations I had with Paul Revere before he was viciously assaulted into a coma, that never made a single mention of you.”

Harriet stepped forward, clearly hoping to falter the rising tension. “Richard. Look at it from our perspective. What would you think of your sudden appearance?”

He wiped a generous amount of blood from his nose onto the sleeve on his shoulder. “Here’s the rub, and I know you already know this, but you two are trying so desperately to appear on top of the situation that you would rather just rock me in the face than have the conversation where we all agree to leave me handcuffed to a chair.” Richard laughed a hearty laugh as his blood dripped down onto his three hundred dollar jeans. “I get that I showed up unannounced and put you guys in quite the pickle. That puts the burden of proof on me does it not? If I can just prove that I know Paul, then there’s no question that I didn’t make this all up, right?” He paused in wait for the two exceptionally non-committal nods to drive him forward. “Pull out my phone and look through the photos. There’s a ton of photos with Paul and I in there—he’s my best friend for Christ’s sake.” He took a deep breath. “Which leads me to the fact that none of you ever met him in person. Paul communicated with Detective Costner over here only through email, and only three times. The bearded guy knocking back his fourth Sam Adams at Hooters is a man you won’t even recognize as the outdated photo you saw on the news. So, let’s curb the puffed-out chests and malleable recollections of events you didn’t witness or comprehend and just get back to punching me in the face.”

Eliot paused to allow the information to dance around in his head for a moment. He looked over to Harriet who looked equally taken aback by all the information exchanged before motioning Richard’s attention back to her. “She saved your life, you know.”

He took a deep breath. “Yes, I remember that emotionally unstable wreck trying to bore a gun through my face.”

She took two steps closer to him, her own battle scars now much more visible under the lights of the backroom. “I made a deal with Alex to get that gun out of your face.”

“Oh, yeah? And what was that deal?”

She put a toothpick in between her lips and wriggled it to a familiar spot. “That I would hit you three times so you would know this is for real.”

Richard squinted as he recounted in his head. “Well, folly for him because you only hit me tw—”

Her fist landed square in his cheek, making a wet-smacking sound as it collided and opened a cut on his face.