His breathing was even though his heart was pounding too loudly in his chest. Luckily, he was surrounded by tourists, each and every one of them too self absorbed and staring blankly at their phones to notice him. He only had to round the next corner before he could slip away, unseen, into the ornate and heavy wooden door of the apartment building that would serve as his lair.
“Arrêtez! Arrêtez! Arrêtez!”
Three male police officers with tall boots and flack vests came from behind to block his way. He thought for a moment he might outwit them and make a run for it, but the French officials were all too ready, driven by their racism, fueled by the hate they felt for the color of his skin and eyes. They quickly grabbed him by the neck and arms and pushed him out of the way of the passers by and gawking tourists enjoying their Coca Colas in the sidewalk cafe. The Carrefour bag full of books he was carrying hit the sidewalk with a smack. Paperbacks were strewn willy-nilly, with no care at all for the spines or corners.
There were no fewer than 45 books packed into the bag and every person who walked by had to stop and admire the pile, picking some up and looking around like they found a secret treasure or possibly were the subject of a hidden camera project before ultimately putting them down and moving on.
Like Midwesterners off the prairie for the first time, the three American women at the cafe couldn’t stop staring and whispering. They had a front row seat for the action and they had no idea what was happening. Or why.
I lingered just on the periphery, watching and trying to blend in with the scenery. The backpack on my back was beginning to get heavy but I couldn’t just walk away. We had come too far for this whole operation to fall apart now. The third in our triangle of deceit was about 20 paces ahead of us waiting on the corner.
The police either didn’t notice me dallying near the street vendor or simply didn’t care so I took some steps closer, never taking my eyes off the books. The officers had removed his backpack and were going through it, questioning the computer printouts and finding more books. I continued to circle, feeling grateful that my recent haircut and shave helped me blend in with the clean-cut tourists and fashionable Parisians going about their day.
I decided to move closer to see if I could hear what was being said. Another officer had joined the group. The rookie among them separated from the questioning and was sent to stand vigil, asking people to move on not with his voice, but with his stern stance and eyes. His new post was too close to my own, so I had to retreat again, circling back to the vendor’s cart.
But why did those Americans keep looking at me?? How could they know I’m involved?? Even the police have disregarded my presence. I should have moved closer to them to see if I could hear what they were saying but the last thing I needed was to be in the headlines for being taken down by some former lady Marines. Besides, that would also put me closer to the bag and books sprawled on the ground. Why won’t people would stop touching them!
The traffic was too loud and the crowds too noisy for me to make out any questions.
The large, empty paper bag was no longer any use to us so I hung it on the fence around the nearby tree. I could see that the police were about to make the arrest. Our partner came by again, appearing to notice nothing, but memorizing every detail. That’s where the devil lives, you know.
I waited enough. The police clearly think they have their man and were waiting on a transport car. I casually collected the books and packed them back into the bag. No one, besides those women, notice a thing, so I put the bag on my shoulder and walked away. Unfortunately, the ones pulled from the back pack are left laying in the door way. Those will have to be abandoned. As I walked away down the street, I heard the door close on the police car. He was carried away to headquarters for the formal arrest.
The organization will support him now.
The mission will continue for me and our secret remains safe.