Thanks for taking a look at this little oneshot. It is my first non-canon era story. I had great fun doing a little 1930s research (but there are likely some inaccuracies).
In the 1930s, Étoile du Nord ran as a luxury train from Paris to Amsterdam via Brussels. To see a poster for the train, check out this tale on AO3, or the Wikipedia page for Étoile du Nord.
This little tale was written as a oneshot, but if you enjoy it, feel free to subscribe and leave a comment in case of future expansion.
"Really madam, I must insist." As the restaurant carriage took the bend, the handsome conductor leaned over Miss Tully. Cutlery and crockery positioned 'just so' on her small table tinkled softly with the hum off the engine.
"Monsieur," she breathed, gazing up at the dark curls escaping from his peaked cap - charmingly long for a man in service. "My purse was stolen - my aunt is poorly. I must make this journey tonight."
"I see." A twinkle in the conductor's dark eyes belied the solemnity of his response. "Perhaps just this once."
A white-gloved hand was proffered for the conductor's inappropriate kiss, and Miss Tully let her eyes slip closed at the sensation. Her scarlet lips and day dress set her apart from the other passengers - gathered sleeves the new thing in Paris - where the fashion steamed ahead of the provinces.
"Conductor," called a disinterested voice from the next table. The young man sighed, bowing to Miss Tully before moving along.
An elegantly dressed man sat alone in the next pair of seats with a newspaper stretched out across the small table. Black hat pulled low over his eyes, the gentleman had not moved to steady his precarious cup of tea, instead watching disinterestedly as the amber liquid sloshed against the side.
"Perhaps you would deign to check my ticket?" The tone was flat but the syllables clipped.
"Monsieur la Fère." The conductor pursed his lips in annoyance as he acknowledged the name on the ticket, before returning it, stumbling slightly as the train bucked again on the rails.
Piercing blue eyes glared out from beneath the hat brim. "Lost your land legs?"
"Funny," the conductor snarked. "You can play ticket collector next time."
Athos shifted his fingers to reveal the hidden message beneath the returned ticket, swiftly absorbing its contents. "Your personable nature is an asset, but another complication and demotion to the Gendarmerie will be the least of your problems." He regarded the conductor in amused frustration.
"Complication? I resent the implication." The conductor said innocently, but at Athos' raised eyebrow, he relented. "Perhaps you are right. Solving blackmail and burglary cases is not my style. This hat, on the other hand... It lends a certain-" He flicked his fingers in the air.
"Too much-" Athos mirrored his friend's movement with significantly less enthusiasm, "and l'Etoile du Nord will be less one conductor."
"Aramis," Athos said, drawing his friend's wandering attention.
"Have you identified our man?"
"Three tables up," Aramis muttered discretely from the corner of his mouth. "Big chap. Hands that could crush a man's skull."
"We need to be sure. La Compagnie du Nord is granting Treville a favour with this operation," said Athos, trailing off as Aramis' attention again drifted to Miss Tully and her scarlet dress.
The tea boy passed close behind, elbow catching Aramis' side as the boy threw a dark look in the false conductor's direction. The cups on his tray jostled angrily.
"Making friends already?" Athos asked with a smirk.
Aramis' reply was interrupted by a thick, white-clad, arm wrapped around his neck from behind.
Nostrils flaring, Athos half rose from his seat.
"Stay there if you know what's good for you." The man's brawny arms stood out darkly against his white tunic. His tall hat brushed the roof of the carriage, an angry cloud which declared him to be the train chef.
When Aramis made to speak, the man tightened his grip, and the marksman grimaced helplessly at Athos.
The tea boy and other passengers were looking on now, some shrinking down in their seats, others with eyes fixed on the confrontation. None with the gall to intervene.
"What is the problem here?" Athos asked, deadly calm.
"Truly," Aramis croaked, never missing an opportunity for provocation. "If I'd known you'd react like this, I'd have thought twice before spitting in the soup."
"We know you're the ambassador," the large man cut Aramis off with an accusation in Athos' direction. "That you're working together - and we know what you're carrying."
"I take it the true chef is off duty tonight," Athos said, eyeing the suspiciously pristine state of the false chef's uniform. "What is it you think we carry?"
"Give us the papers or we'll snap his neck." The thick arm tightened and Aramis' face flushed as he fought for air.
The large man flung Aramis into the isle where he landed on his knees by the startled tea boy.
"And who is 'we'?" Athos asked, unfazed as Aramis coughed and sputtered, regaining his lost breath.
The tea boy threw off his little hat, revealing a neat ponytail. Reaching into the breast pocket of his blue uniform, he drew his own revolver.
The murmuring from the other passengers increased as they realised the carriage was beset by two assailants. A few tables away, Aramis' mark, a large man with a shiny bald head, shifted in his seat, eyeing their altercation with suspicion.
Chaos erupted in the carriage as the chef's well aimed fist caught Athos across the jaw, sending him crashing back into the train wall. Caught in the crossfire, his teacup splintered apart, dark liquid spreading like a blood stain across the newspaper.
Several of the first class passengers took to their feet at the sudden violence, fleeing down the aisle to second class. As the tea boy let them depart un-accosted, Miss Tully hesitated by the kneeling Aramis, eyes apologetic. He gave her a reassuring half smile before the small exodus swept her away.
The bald man a few tables away shifted in his chair, as if hesitating whether to join the crowd.
In the silence that followed, the chef's hand twisted in Athos' shirt collar and drew him forwards. He met the chef's eyes with an icy glare, ignoring his split lip as the spreading tea, just shy of scalding, trickled uncomfortably down across his crisply ironed suit pants.
With a casual gesture from his accomplice, the tea boy placed his revolver pointedly against Aramis' temple.
Holding Aramis' defiant gaze, Athos raised his hands in dignified surrender. "We have the papers," he admitted, "but not here." He jerked a head to the front of the carriage.
"Then let's go," the chef said in satisfaction, dragging Athos from his seat. "You're gonna show us."
As they frogmarched the two Sûreté agents down the length of the train, the remaining passengers shrank down into their seats. The bald man sat rigidly, watching with disguised interest as they passed.
As the chef shoved Athos through into the train's galley, Aramis risked a glance at the door to the outside. Nothing but black night and the occasional flash of lights as they sped by little towns and country stations. With a final show of resistance, he allowed himself to be maneuvered through the small internal doorway.
The narrow kitchen was hot and steamy, rich with the smells of recent cooking. There was no sign of the true chef, and barely enough space for the four of them to maneuver.
The tea boy released his hold on Aramis' arms, and, once the door behind them was safely closed, peered back through the small window into the first class carriage. "He's not making a move."
"Give it time," Athos said, rubbing his jaw. "And Porthos-?"
Only the chef's back was visible as he bent low to rummage in one of the cupboards beneath the stove, but he looked up in response to Athos' question.
"A little less knuckle next time."
"Sorry." Porthos whipped off his chef's hat before it fell into the greasy pot on the stove, grunting in frustration as the narrow confines hampered his actions. "But if you're going to act like an arrogant toff I'm going to want to punch you."
Athos' quelling look was undermined by his attempt to wipe the spilt tea from his trousers.
D'Artagnan, still looking disgruntled in his blue uniform, glanced back from his place by the steamed up window. "I'd take a punch if it meant I didn't have to wear-"
"Yes, but can you see Athos as a tea boy?" Aramis laughed, tugging at the front of his shirt and straightening his collar. He called over to Porthos. "You had me worried in there. The plan was to wait until D'Artagnan gave the signal."
Porthos finally succeeded in extracting a case from the compact cupboard, slamming the small door shut with satisfied violence. He dropped it onto the galley bench, Aramis wincing as spilt soup went flying, and flipped it open to reveal their portable armory.
"Your act had been getting sloppy - that girl in the red dress..." Porthos shook his head and neatly reversed his hold on Aramis' pistol, offering the grip to his friend. "Wanted to give you a bit of a shock."
Aramis checked his weapon for soup stains. "I may get a little distracted, but no man in his right mind would put you in charge of a kitchen."
They all paused to look around, taking in the steamy little kitchen, cluttered with dirty pots, plates and used cutlery.
Porthos looked a little offended. "I'll have you know L'etoile du Nord's kitchen is a high class establishment. The real chef said I'd make a good apprentice. But D'Artagnan was on washing up duty."
D'Artagnan ignored the insinuation, his eyes still diligently fixed on the carriage window. "You didn't say - how exactly are they planning to intercept the Spanish papers?"
"The ambassador was to be on the train," Athos said. "We knew of the plot to take the papers en route. Treville believed posing as the ambassador and staging our own false intercept might draw them out."
"But we don't know who or when?" Porthos asked.
Athos inclined his head in acknowledgment.
"Surprise, surprise. Sometimes I think those chaps in surveillance omit details deliberately," Aramis said.
D'Artagnan huffed a scornful breath. "And you can't think of a reason why they don't trust you? After last time..."
Aramis sniffed. "Last time was different."
"Last time your rash choices nearly destabilised law enforcement across all of France," Athos said, not bothering to temper the accusation.
Aramis gave an exaggerated sigh. "We've been through this. Gendarmerie, Sûreté National - it's all a shambles. You of all people know it."
Seeing Athos' darkening countenance, D'Artagnan suggested the oft cited rationale. "The war…"
"That's only a part of it, "Porthos cut in. "Under resourced, corrupt..."
"It's not our place to question-" Athos warned, before Aramis interrupted.
"You agreed with me."
"And how much had I drunk at the time?" Athos asked with the hint of a smile, effectively closing the topic.
Aramis brought a hand to his neck to wipe at the gathering perspiration. His blue uniform coat was already draped over one arm. "Want me to store your jacket?"
As Athos thankfully passed the garment to Aramis, Porthos plucked at Athos' braces where they crossed at the back. "Suspenders? Call yourself a man of fashion."
"It may surprise you to know that I pay very little attention to such things," Athos said.
"It's all belts now in Paris," D'Artagnan put in. "Last week, I saw Charles Farrell wearing-"
"D'Artagnan, on the other hand-" Athos began dryly, eyeing D'Artagnan's tea boy uniform, "-can clearly teach us a thing or two about style."
The former tea boy glared. "If you're quite finished, we're-"
"I think we need to ban the boy from following Aramis to the cinema," Porthos interrupted. "All that American rubbish."
"You live in Paris," Athos added with slow scorn, pinning Aramis and D'Artagnan with his gaze. "The birthplace of cinema - and yet you choose to watch-"
"-we're stopping at a station," D'Artagnan continued urgently.
"That can't be right." Aramis moved quickly to the side window. "This should be a rapide service - and we can't have reached Brussels."
Athos tucked his pistol into the waistband of his trousers and squeezed past Aramis to cup his hands and peer through first class window. The bald man had hoisted his newspaper and continued reading. "We've got the wrong man."
Porthos thumped a fist against the bench top. "Can't have."
"Something is wrong," Athos said.
D'Artagnan cocked his head to the side. "Listen - the train is being boarded."
They all raised their pistols.
A frightened female voice sounded from the corridor. "Gentlemen - please - I need help." The silhouette of her stylish hat was visible through the steamed up glass. "A man has been stabbed."
"It's Miss Tully," Aramis stuttered, tucking his pistol out of sight. "Quickly..." The other three agents hesitated, but lowered their weapons at Aramis' insistence as the elegant figure pushed open the door.
"Return to your seat, Miss," Porthos growled, resuming his threatening persona. "I've got unfinished business with these men."
She smiled, scarlet lips curling upwards. "How convenient. Business is what I had in mind." Her small silver pistol glowed in the light of the corridor. Behind her, three armed, suited men stepped up to block the doorway.
Aramis took a step back in shock.
D'Artagnan, closest to the door, began to raise his pistol but left off as the barrel of her gun centred squarely on his chest.
"Thank you for doing the hard yards, boys. How about we take these two off your hands."
"Who are you?" Porthos asked.
"Someone with an interest in the ambassador's papers," she replied. "Like yourselves."
Aramis suppressed a groan. The twinkle in her eye, her appreciation of his flattery - all a ruse. He sized up the three men with their angled hats and striped jackets. If anyone matched the aspect of the gangsters in D'Artagnan's favourite films, it was these three.
"We both want the same thing," Porthos said, playing along. "Maybe we can do ourselves a little deal."
"I don't think so. Turn around." She gestured with her pistol to Aramis and Athos.
The two agents turned slowly, unsure if the lady had cottoned on to their false scuffle in the carriage. If not, there was a slim chance Porthos and D'Artagnan could get them out of this. Preferably before the lady discovered they did not have the papers in question.
"Hands behind your head."
Aramis found himself the subject of Athos' long suffering, indulgent, gaze. Another complication. Running a chagrined hand through his hair, he locked his fingers behind his neck and offered Athos a winning smile. "Well - it can't be worse than last time."
This little tale was written as a oneshot, but if you liked it, feel free to follow / leave a comment in case of future expansion. I may feel inspired :)
For those reading Nuit due Loup, latest chapter is drafted but needing some polishing.
Would love to hear you if you enjoyed this one ^_^