Author's notes:

1) I won't be rewriting this entirely, but I decided to edit and tweak it, to make the story flow better. I wrote the original work over the course of six (6) years, so this should at least smooth it out a bit. This version will differ in some ways from the version up on today - which version in turn differs somewhat from the originally completed text.

2) Javert's songs in the first chapter are not mine: I adapted two so-called "blatnye" or criminal songs popular in Russia in the 1950s and 60s. The performer I had in mind for Javert's voice is Vladimir Vysotsky. (I'm pretty sure he wrote the first song, but the second one is definitely convict folklore.)

This is the first song he sings:
And this is the second one (melancholy):

Would you know the dog from the wolf? You may look at his paw,
Comparing the claw and the pad; you may measure his stride,
You may handle his coat and his ears; you may study his jaw;
And yet what you seek is not found in his bones or his hide,
For between the Dog and the Wolf there is only the Law.

- Poul Anderson

Chapter 1

"As for me, I still have many visits to make,
So draw your curtains, so check your latches!"

Only sheer willpower kept Valjean from spilling wine into his lap.

"You may think you are safe with your doorman and dog
You may think leaving lights on will keep you;
But I've already taken a print of your lock..."

The singing was coming from behind a wooden support beam about three tables away. Thick plumes of tobacco smoke and turned down lanterns veiled much of the goings-on around him, but Valjean found that if he skewed his eyes enough to the right, he could observe two men sitting under the fly-dotted portrait of Jean de La Fontaine near the bar; or rather, he could observe the back of one man and the profile of the other. The one who sat with his back to Valjean was bent over a plate and had two wine-bottles standing in front of him. The other one sat on the high, narrow steps leading to a locked door, probably the entrance to the provisions cellar, and sang in a low but playful voice, punctuating some sentences with aggressive guitar chords.

The deep, guttural timbre of the singer's voice was unmistakable. Valjean felt that he was going mad. The desire to turn his head and confirm the terrible truth was overwhelming, but Valjean called to power all of his self-control and remained as he was. In his head, a piece of nonsense rolled around like a pebble in a clay jug: one person more, one person less, one person more, one person less.

Ten paces behind him sat Javert.

Ten paces behind him sat Javert, and he was singing a thief song.

Valjean's mind flashed back to the article in the Moniteur. Body found under a boat. Irreproachable public servant. A writing left behind at the station on Place du Chatelet. A fit of mental aberration and suicide. So why was this irreproachable suicide singing thief lore in a guinguette near the Fontainebleau barrier?

Javert's voice barely carried over the near-deafening clamor and chatter; Valjean had to strain to hear the words. Every so often, a mug would get slammed against the table somewhere to the side, showering a company with beer, or roars of savage laughter would tear out of several tobacco-scraped gullets at once and cover for a few moments all other sounds. Waitresses bustled between tables, constantly blocking the singer and his companion from Valjean's furtive observation.

The song was ended with two forceful chords, which apparently won the attention of Javert's pie-eyed neighbor, whose unsteady hand reached toward Javert with a glass. Javert accepted with a smile and took a small polite sip. His companion must've said something to him, because Javert looked up at him and nodded into the glass. Setting the unfinished wine onto the low table, he lowered his head to re-tune the guitar. The process took a surprisingly long time: the strings must've been of poor quality. Then Javert tossed his head, shaking a loose strand of hair out of his eyes, and set to singing another well-known thief tune, this time a sad one:

"Woe, the fate and fortune of a thief!
One wants a field but finds a wall instead;
Yet be my days of freedom e'er so brief,
I shall hang before I hang my head."

Valjean had heard the song before. When a new man was rotated into a chain gang in Toulon, and the group felt reluctant to accept him, they would wait to voice their concerns until he sang something. One can tell a lot about a man by the songs he sings under duress. This was one of the songs almost guaranteed to win respect from the old-timers, provided it was sung with the appropriate intonations and accents. Javert sang it perfectly. There was even a hint of slightly hysterical sarcasm behind the lines, which only served to enhance the illusion that the singer was, as the thieves said, fresh from the "hospital" and recovering from a long "illness."

"It is coming soon, my final hour
Sunlight streaks the sky but once in ages
Darling, crows are useless to a fowler;
Only nightingales and finches sit in cages."

This time the surrounding tables remained somewhat quieter and, when the final melancholy notes died away, rewarded the singer with a couple of cheers and whistles, most of them from the back tables. Javert rose, nodded at someone at those tables, and perched on a high stool at the bar, setting his guitar on his knees.

Careful not move too suddenly and not to make any noise, lest he attract Javert's attention, Valjean pushed his chair back until he was sitting at the table next to his, which was near the wall. The man already sitting there paid no heed to his new table companion. He held his stubbly chin in his hands and grinned around a still-smoking pipe, watching Javert re-tune the instrument once more.

"Not a bad sort of voice," remarked Valjean as Javert twanged now this and now that string.

The smoker said nothing but raised his thick black eyebrows and tightened his mouth in a grimace of assent. Valjean waited to see if more was forthcoming. But his table companion must have felt that he expressed himself with sufficient clarity and offered nothing else.

The situation was saved by a waitress, who paused Valjean's old table with a new bottle and a plate of cheese and bread, looking around for her customer. Valjean signaled to her to bring his order to the new table and slipped her a silver coin. The waitress curtsied silently and left, tucking the coin discretely in some secret dress pocket under her stained apron.

"Your health," said Valjean to his neighbor, filling up the glass in front of him.

"Thank you, dear sir," suddenly said the neighbor and swiftly tipped the rest of the bottle into his own glass. "Yes, a toast is definitely in order. Such a day! Your health."

They drank.

"Did they send you a plain one or a gold-embossed one?" asked the man, wiping his mouth.

"Pardon?" asked Valjean.

The man reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a familiar cream card with raised black lettering.

Valjean considered it for a few moments, then pulled out the card he had received in the post two days earlier and put it on the table next to the man's.

The two cards were identical, save for one detail: the hand-written number in the top right hand corner of Valjean's card read "01/30," while the stranger's read "17." Both gave the address of the place, date, and time - "between eight and nine in the evening" - and, oddly enough, the instruction to sit at table #2. That was it.

"Ah, a plain one, too. I hear they sent gold-embossed ones to the veterans," said the man with apparent envy.

Valjean turned both cards over. The strange emblem on the back was also exactly the same: a heater shield with an elegant silhouette of a howling wolf and below it, a puzzling device: "Melius in umbra pugnabimus".

Valjean sat back in his chair and glanced once more at Javert, who appeared to be deep in conversation with some barrel-chested swarthy type dressed in the tan jacket of a river-docks strongman on holiday. The man kept leaning down close to whisper into Javert's ear, and each time Javert nodded his head back and smiled, baring both rows of large even teeth.

"I know why we've been called," declared the man solemnly.

"My heart tells me it's nothing good," muttered Valjean, quite honestly.

"I bet you a monarch you are right. They probably finalized the decision with regards to the General. Otherwise why bring so many of us in at once?"

Valjean nodded casual assent and reached for the bottle again. The situation plainly did not call for sobriety.