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Excerpt from FOLIO

Chapter Five


I searched in the darkness for the Cheese Man's so-called abbey. I expected to see some sort of soaring French spire with stained glass windows. Instead, a bombed-out church rose before me against the unsettled dawn sky, complete with a massive cross sticking out of its shattered roof. I could make out a crumbling doorway in shadow. A slender woman appeared at the entrance, looking out as if expecting a visitor. She wore a flowered dress, cinched at the waist. I registered a heart-shaped face. She scanned the road and disappeared inside.


Whoever she was, she looked harmless. Any further hesitation could be deadly. I darted into the abbey, pulling my camera forward to my chest, ready for just about anything that would be waiting within.


I ducked against an inside wall, slightly out of breath. The wall was cool. The smell of cigarette smoke lingered in the air. My eyes started to adjust. I saw a blown-out vestibule at the far end of the vestry. I pulled the camera into position and slid my index finger onto the shutter button. A quick inventory showed there was no real roof left overhead, only pure sky. Dried blood was splattered across the gray stone floor at my feet.


I had an eerie feeling that someone was watching me. I crouched closer to the wall on my left, and, in a moment, she appeared from the shadowy darkness, luminous and lovely, followed by a tall man in a hat and long trench coat, a cigarette dangling from his lips. He was obviously not a soldier. A ray of morning sunlight peeked into the interior, illuminating them both for a moment. We sized each other up. I got the shot before they could react. Captured by me forever. If, of course, I could get the film back to the bureau. Possibly underexposed, but it would have to do.


"Photographie—non!" The girl all but lunged at my camera.


"It's alright, darling, he's alright." The man soothed her in a British accent, the cigarette now pitched to the side of his mouth.


My contact? I patted my jacket pockets, checking for the message from Francine.


"Qui est vous?" The girl was polite now.


"Photojournaliste," I said, slipping into French, not sure what role she played here.


"Regardez—le ciel est abricot," she said, a sweetness in her voice, one perfect finger pointing toward the entryway behind me.


Instinct took over. I turned to look back at the apricot sky and a loud knock thumped the back of my head. The pain was sharp and immediate.


"Lights out," I heard myself say, before I hit the cold stone floor.