|The Shell Game
Author: MastersofNight PM
Continuation of The Sorcerer of Rouen. Erik and Emily’s courtship becomes complicated with an American Pinkerton agent, a gang of American criminals, a secret French crime syndicate, Monsieur Colt’s big brother. Post ALWRated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Romance - Chapters: 42 - Words: 94,274 - Reviews: 373 - Favs: 14 - Follows: 18 - Updated: 10-08-07 - Published: 10-01-05 - Status: Complete - id: 2601088
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Chapter Forty-one: What Never Leaves
Martin sat on the wagon and watched the horses while Javier and Kennard carried the painting up a flight of stairs. Unlike the local police, the Surete offices had closed for the evening. Chase decided to take the painting to Herni Capegon's for safe keeping.
Javier came down the stairs first. Stopping on the sidewalk he glanced up and down the length of the street. "Quiet neighborhood."
Martin grunted in assent. "Close enough to walk to his office. He was either very fortunate to find an apartment that close, or the Surete pays well."
"You think so?" Javier sounded intrigued. "Do they pay spies? I'm never averse to earning a little pocket change." He grinned, sensing Martin wouldn't rise to his bait.
"You would have to talk to them," Martin grumbled. "It's the sort of job where you put yourself in jeopardy hanging around every low-life tavern in town. I don't think Sophie would be happy with that."
Javier set a boot on the edge of the wheel and adopted a thoughtful pose. "You're right. She wouldn't want me around any unsavory types like you."
Martin snorted. "Pendejo."
Javier grinned at the slight lift of Martin's lips. It signaled a change from the taut mood that had hovered around him all evening.
Chase appeared at the bottom of the stairs. "Henri says we can forgo keeping either of you in Paris for statements since I was with you when the painting was found. You are free to return to Rouen in the morning."
"Good." Javier pointed down the street. "We passed a tavern on the way. Want to try that one?"
They tied the wagon out front of the window of the tavern. Most of the patrons were already deep in their cups and paid no attention to their arrival. Going to the bar, they picked up drinks and then squeezed into a small back table.
Chase raised his glass. "My thanks. We couldn't have done it without you."
"Our pleasure," Javier replied. He hitched a thumb at Martin. "He's not happy we didn't get them all."
Chase grinned. "How can you tell? He always looks like that."
Martin lifted an eyebrow.
Chase sat back with a sigh. "The hardest part of this job is learning patience. It's taken me five years to get to Joe Sterns. The fact I have him at all is probably more to do with the new gang not wanting him rather than a slip-up on his part." He poured another shot into his glass.
"What will happen now?" Martin asked.
"First we will look into that Rabatini fellow from the Italian Embassy and see if he was part of this, or if someone used his name. That could take time because Henri says they can't take the chance of stepping on any of the Italian's toes, so to speak. While he's working on that, someone else will be trying to track down Rabatini and see if he really was involved. If not, then we will know that it was someone in the Embassy that agreed to this."
"But why?" Javier glanced at the other patrons. "People like that aren't going to commit theft."
"How can you be sure," Martin said. "Embassy's are considered part of the country they represent. How do any of us know what goes on behind their doors?"
"I can tell you it is way out of our league," Chase refilled the glasses. "We all know that criminals and the police make deals. The reason I came over for Sterns was that a man was killed during a robbery. It's an unspoken agreement that there is no gun-play. The police pick up who falls out of line and the rest of the criminals carry on in a low-key manner. When they start pushing boundaries, then the police haul them in. It's the way it is. When you are keeping the peace in the city of this size, you get used to a little compromise."
They finished their drinks in silence and filed out of the tavern. "It's late and I want to get an early start." Javier offered a hand to Chase. "Let us know what you find, if you can."
"I will, Javier."
Martin let Javier take the wagon. Chase pulled out one of his cigarettes and lit it. "You ever fish?"
"You bait your hook and you cast out your line and then you wait. Finding this group is going to take some fishing."
Martin reluctantly smiled at Chase. He sounded like Emily when she used the phrases he had come to think of as her American wit.
Chase exhaled a cloud of aromatic smoke. "I don't need to tell you that fishing might be what they are planning to do as well. They saw Emily Griggs."
An icy uncertainty wove through Martin's insides. Fear he could deal with. It was the endless questioning of himself and everything around him that wore on his nerves. In the past he had gone down deep into the earth that had hidden him. Like a spider he would retreat to the safest place he knew. "I'm taking her back to Rouen tomorrow. Annie and Ned could tell this new group where she is, but why would they want to come there for her?"
Chase stepped away. "It might not be her they want."
Silence stretched between the two men. Adrenaline surged through Martin's veins. He kept his breathing level and returned Chase's frank appraisal.
"You're him aren't you?" Chase asked. "You're De La Shaumette. The chance of two men with masks is a little thin, especially when one is never seen."
Martin said nothing, feeling a wave of relief that Kennard had not pieced together the story of a madman with a ruined face that stalked the Opera.
"If I stay in France," Chase began, "could I count on you to help me if I have to go across the border?"
"You plan on going after them?"
"Yes. I've learned to be a patient man, but not one who gives up easily. There are some things you can never leave behind." He waved a hand, the end of his cigarette glowing brighter. "Pinkertons never sleep."
"Keep me informed," Martin replied. "We will be ready when you need us."
Chase grinned. "You take care of that little heifer of yours. She's got some sass."
Martin cocked his head, peering at the American. "Sass?"
"You know, some gumption. She's got nerve. Not every woman would fire a shotgun out of a window. Most would just run to some man and hide."
Martin was still staring at him. "Hef-air. What is hef-air? Is it like filly?"
Chase hooted in laugher. "You call her that, she might come shoot me. Never mind I said that." He became serious. "I wouldn't let you leave Paris with her if I thought you couldn't take care of her. She is an American citizen."
"She is safer with me than with anyone," Martin replied in a low voice.
"I picked up that impression along the way."
Martin had worked assiduously to scour the actions of the Phantom from his presence among others. Forcing himself to deal with people he had tamped down the rage and the lust for control. The last vestiges of that man lay beneath his skin, allowed to surface when the situation called for it. Perhaps Kennard realized that darker element of him is what Martin could never leave behind.
Chase ground out his cigarette. "I'll catch a cab back to my hotel. We may meet again, Monsieur." He offered a hand, and Martin grasped it. Kennard walked away, tipping the large brim of his hat down over his face.
Pierre le Grand shook his head. "She came out for a while with the little cat. The rest of the time she's been inside. No cabs have stopped along the street, and only a few men walked by. It's been quiet the whole night."
"My thanks," Martin replied. "We shall be leaving in the morning. Tell your brother that the Pinkerton is staying for a while longer. They believe that the few members of the gang have left the city, and perhaps France. He's going to send word to me if he finds anything out. I'll let your people in Rouen know."
"Good. We can all get back to business." Pierre stepped out onto the sidewalk. "Until next time."
Martin waited until he had disappeared up the street and left the alley. Stepping onto the boat, he took one last look before unlocking the cabin door.
Martin rubbed at the whiskers on his cheek. "We got the painting, but the gang was gone."
She groaned. "What happens now?"
"Now," he said as his hands settled on her waist, "we get a few hours of sleep. When dawn arrives we will go back to Rouen."
Emily rubbed her hands up his spine. "What a terrible let down after all you've gone through."
"Kennard thinks he still may be able to trace them. Until that time, you are safer in Rouen, and we have plans to make."
He stepped away from her and doused the cabin light. Emily sat on the edge of the bunk until he had washed up and began stripping off his clothes. She lay on her side and watched him with a catlike grin. Martin climbed over her and Carlotta, pulling Emily closer. With a sigh he pressed a kiss to the nape of her neck.
Carlotta opened an eye and stretched. She climbed to her feet and jumped down to the floor and over to the room's other bunk. If her two humans were going to keep making the bunk move, she'd find another spot to nap on.