The voice on the other end of the line is starting to sound familiar in an annoying kind of way; maybe it is annoying in a familiar way. Probably both. “I was beginning to think that you had given up.”
I wanted to berate him for that last clue being so tough but I played it cool instead. “We decided to see some of Paris then grab a bite and a Bordeaux before playing your game again.”
“Ha! Fair enough. Well this game is near it’s end.”
“Is it? What is it you want?”
“All will come to light tomorrow morning.”
“That is if you don’t decide to desert your friends again for some more wining and dining. You all need to come ready to run at 6:00 a.m. to the Holy place on the hill.”
“Where is that? What do you mean run?”
“You’ll figure it out!” then the call is over. Without hesitation I hit send again, redialing the number but it is all for not.
“Well?” asks Mark.
“Did you say we have to run? Like from him now?” adds Jess.
I explain, “He wants us to meet at the Holy place on the hill at 6:00 a.m. tomorrow and be ready to run.”
Now Michelle, “Like a “run” run? I don’t understand.”
Contrarily helpful, Drew and Jess have their phones out searching for clues to decipher the latest riddle. Drew tells us, “I’m searching churches on a topographic map!” and Jess is “looking at the running portion of the mix.”
As if they were synced up to each other like their phones to networks, lap-tops and iTunes. “Found it! Montmartre!” and “there is a running a group that meets there at 6:00.”
“WE have to RUN tomorrow morning, in – seven hours?!” This is no surprise from Mark, he was least likely to follow through with a during the trip.
I am more concerned with getting up in time to be somewhere else by a certain time, “And we will need to get where we need to be by 6:00.”
Jessica adds, “We were planning on running at some point this trip anyways, so at least we have our shoes and gear.”
Michelle closes the complaining, “We’d better get to bed then, meet in the lobby at 5:30; as the insomniac, I’ll look at public transportation to get there or arrange for a taxi.”
Combining last night’s wine, the stress of the trip so far and jet-lag finally catching us, we look like a pretty ragged bunch. Surprisingly, everyone has made it to the lobby and Michelle has come through for us with a waiting cab. The girls are suited in fashionable and current running gear, while us guys have only updated our shoes over the years. I realize that I never told the group that our kidnapper said this would be the last round of clues and his game would end soon.
Jessica expresses her surprise, “that he never gave us a reason or asked for a ransom.”
Drew has fallen asleep in the cab and the rest of the group might as well be asleep. Upon realizing this, that she is talking solely to me, I retort, “I’m just glad no one has been hurt and that it will be over soon.”
She lightens her mood, “no one has been hurt yet, but wait till Mark tries to keep up with us on the run.”
His lack of response, proves he is asleep. I softly laugh at her joke and gaze into her eyes just long enough for her to see I am especially grateful that she is with me on this journey.
We arrive at the bas of the hill of the church with ten minutes to spare. A small group has begun to form and we head in their direction. We all are jolted back to reality when a guy comes running our way.
“Sooo good to see fellow Americans!”
“Is it that obvious?”
“Few groups join a group and most people run here; you guys took a cab. Where are you guys from?”
“A little bit of all over but we know each other from college.”
“Cool. You picked a good time to come. Today is the days that five different groups meet in five different places and race toward the same finish point.” Mark’s eyes shift upon hearing race; my heart accelerates. The stranger continues, “Our group is more the social than serious and today is just a downhill 5k.”
“That’s good.” I sigh in relief.
“Anyways, welcome and enjoy it!”
As the guys walks away and the start time nears, Jess points out what I am just now realizing, “the guy we are looking for as well as Liz and Brian could be in another group?”
“Ya, seems so, but we all end in the same spot.”
Drew and Michelle volunteer to stick close to Mark and we all agree to keep an eye out anyways. As we begin running, Jess and I ease a little more toward the front of the pack. The three others fall naturally toward the back, giving us pretty conclusive coverage. As the run starts the sun is coming up slightly behind us. It has a way of illuminating the city before us while we begin our descent. Man-made, hand-laid, symmetrical brick beneath our feet adds to the experience. The sun moves from behind us to our right as we turn and weave. It feels like we are moving at a pretty good clip and I feel like we may be missing something.
I ask Jess, “Do you think we need to pay more attention to this route and the things we are passing?”
Believe me, I am taking it all in. If this guy says it will end today then I am very ready to finish this run and see what awaits.
Our new friend races up beside us as we turn left toward the sun again. “We are going to enter Monceau Park up here on the right. I usually gain speed through the park and finish strong.”
“Thanks!” I yell after him, as he is already making the right and leaving our sight.
Contrary to his advice and our desire to finish this thing, we slow as we enter the park. There were many types of trees and stone ruins throughout. As others began to pass us, we run along a pond which plays hosts to a number of birds; both in the water and perched on the overhanging trees.
Impressed Jess gasps, “It’s almost magical!” and I am glad Jess says this and not me. I reply with a simple, almost coy, “Yep!”
The magic, I mean park, is over faster than either of us would like and we are back on a major road. Though the road comes as a rude awakening we can finally see our finish line. A very familiar structure, most likely from watching all those Tour’s de France that Lance has now had to abandon, sits at the end of this avenue. It is the Arc de Triomphe. Of course, this is where this race and journey would finish. At least, I hope.
We approach the structure and can see the other groups converging into one. There is a circus like tent set up with food and drinks. Jess and I wait there until Drew, Mark and Michelle join us. I begin to tell them my somewhat formulated plan, “Let’s split up and meet back here in – ”
“LIz! Brian!” Michelle interrupts.
I want to tell her that the method of just shouting their names might not work, but am slapped on the back by – turning I see it is Brian. “You guys!”
We then, naturally all talk at once. “Are you okay?” “You’re okay!” “Where is the guy?” “Did he do anything?” “Where did he take you?”
“Swyyyyyyyeeeeeeeeeerrrrreeeeetttt!!” whistles Brian with his fingers in his mouth. I never could do that. He continues, “Good. We’re fine. Calm down – maybe even sit down.”
“What’s up?” asks Jessica.
Brian looks at LIz then the rest of us. “One: we have had a really good past couple of days. And if that comes as a surprise to you, number two is going to be overwhelming.”
Liz picks up from there, “Two: you see -” I agree that maybe hearing whatever this is will be easier from a woman. But she doesn’t finish because I see another familiar face. A face that I was more than certain I would not ever see again. A face that has an awful lot of explaining to do. Our dear friend, Reggie, is alive and well.
I have a mix of emotions, I want to hit him but also want to hug him. Instead of either I just ask, “what the hell is going on?”
“Let’s grab a beer and I’ll take you through it.”
He tells us how the agency had staged his death; that only his parents and the seven of us knew about it. HIs methods and tactics since our arrival had been to protect us and prove our loyalty and love. It had also been a way for him to tangibly inform us of the severity of the situation. It is good to see him alive and well; good to see the old running group. This moment with these old friends makes my drink taste like it’s the single best beer ever.