L'oeuf de truie

Lily Dubois sighed as she leaned back against the plush red of the long sofas that made up the backstage of the Moulin Rouge. Behind her stretched the dressing rooms where women were busy scraping greasepaint from their faces and hanging up the sorts of creations that made the dressmakers of Paris very happy and considerably richer. In this dim light the sumptuousness of the furnishings and the gilt paint would have you believe that they were feted actresses performing lofty works, the truth was something else and the ache in Lily's feet came back to remind her- Chahuteuses (the unruly girls), performing the Can Can every night to a house full of nobility and French Society that reveled in the mixture of loose morality and the flexibility of their legs.

"Aimee..." her hand stretched out to catch that of a young woman passing by, a smile passing over her lips "you did well tonight- they are already calling you 'Le Bourgeon Blanc' (the white bud) did you hear the Comte? You have an admirer of the best sort! One with money and a wife already"

The young woman didn't resist the pull to sit down, a mix of pride and worry on her face.
"What should I do?"

Lily smiled back "Nothing Cherie- just make sure that you face his way when you dance and when you are in his box keep the path to the door clear in your mind. But here- you can untie my boots, I am tired." Thin white fingers untied the black strings so that Lily could finally kick them off and with a heavy, ecstatic sigh of pure bliss, her hands slid down the black stocking to send them into a heap on the floor.

Lily had been slow to redress after the end of the show, and sat watching the others bustle back into the hall to find their regulars or a face to flirt with- some man who was feeling the flush of the Can Can in his breeches and could be parted with francs with which to buy drinks. Maybe she needed a break- to get out of this place just for one night, away from the smell of money and sex, Lord knows she didn't want to see any of those faces who looked up expectantly when she entered the Hall, beckoning for her to go laugh and sparkle at their table, hoping for a touch or a kiss.

Gabrielle, she would find Gabrielle. Her old partner in crime- you couldn't usually tell which one of them had suggested the bad...or good idea, depending on your point of view that they were throwing themselves into and Lily was suddenly pulling on the black lace dress with vigour. She smiled at herself in the mirror, gathering her hair back up and pinching her cheeks for some colour. Gabrielle would be up for a drink or three in The Red Parrot, a favourite of 'their' kind round the back of the Montmartre, well in truth there too, men would be hoping for a touch or a kiss, and sometimes taking it anyhow, but at least there you didn't have to smile and pretend that you wanted them to.

She only really saw a flash of those golden curls disappear out the door, well that and the scent of something different, maybe a different cigarette or sandalwood or soap- Gabrielle had gone already, a call of "See you there Lily!" back over her shoulder. Lily wouldn't dream of complaining, from what she had heard already Gabrielle's new 'young man' had been the talk of the dressing rooms- an artist they said- though his occupation took up less time than the conversation about the shape of his mouth. Now Aimee was about to go too, Lily could tell by the sickly grin on the face of Monsieur Mauriac as he spoke in hushed voices to the manservant of the Comte de Richelieu and she sighed just a little. The Comte was a recent arrival in Paris, he had, as far as anyone could see, enough money to buy ever girl in the place, but possessed all the grace of a snake. He was an ill match for Aimee. That girl was just too young, too naive and too sweet for a man like that and Lily took a last look, if she went with her instincts she would have marched up to pull that young woman back, but instead what she did was close her eyes for a second, who was she to deny her friend access to that sort of money. She needed a drink.

The Paris mist had curled Lily's hair more than she would have liked, and by the time she reached the Red Parrot, the wet sheen of night on her skin had chilled her so much that her shivers had interrupted her precarious good humour "a few glasses of red wine is what I need", sometimes it helped to talk to yourself, especially when no one else quite made sense. A welcome blast of warm air surrounded her as she entered the bar and Lily smiled at the man in front of her "Allo Picard...Tu as une table pour moi?" It was an unnecessary question- the doorman always had a table for Lily, though in truth he would swap it for the chaise longue in his room in a heartbeat. With his hand on her back he led her across the room, the pressure suddenly increased as she stopped suddenly, a smile that lit up the bar "Gabrielle!" The happiness was both stolen and increased as she took in the man those thigh glanced that of her friend, his lips still raw with the taste of a kiss, his tongue not quite retreated

"I am interrupting Cherie" Lily winked as she took a glance at the fall of this beautiful man's breeches "but I will stay all the same" a kiss on both cheeks and then her hand extended to find the long fingers of the man who introduced himself as Michel Demains. Lily was unaccustomed to the notion of 'mine', that beauty was something to be shared was a firm conviction of hers, and neither Michel nor Gabrielle had a choice but to agree as she nestled herself into the very small space beside them. "Ah! Bonsoir at last mes amis"

In the neighbouring district- the Pigalle- Inspector Fred Abberline stared into the orange glow of a candle, his thoughts you would have imagined deep in the details of a case, one of the many crimes of passion and money that seemed to find their way onto illegibly scrawled crime reports, and onto his desk- tales of sickly husbands dredged from the waters of the Seine, their wives entangled with lovers and hopes, accusations of blackmail and corruption that Abberline knew lead him into territory that would hasten the end of his already tenuous career. It had occurred to him many times that may have been the reason they were added to the pile, but since acting on that would require the sort of meetings to his superiors that he always sought to avoid, involving a litany of the myriad of cases still outstanding and whilst they were on the subject, how exactly did Abberline account for the hours that was out of the office, it was best to simply shuffle them further down amoungst the more grisly slices of Parisian life. He hadn't been in Paris long, seconded by Scotland Yard after what was euphemistically described as 'the unfortunate incident'. Unfortunate at least for the women who made up the names of the victims of the Ripper at least he thought, nobody else seemed to have suffered unduly as the case slipped out of facts and into legend. He had however been here long enough to know that Paris smelt a lot like London when you got down to the bottom of it.

Well that's what you would have imagined, but it would be far from the truth. In fact Fred Abberline had not long awoken from the daze of an opium dream in which the red and gold pillows supporting him floated his body so far of the ground he may well have actually been in China. He hadn't quite yet come to and the candle wax was holding considerable fascination for him- the way that it dripped and hardened in one silken movement. Sounds were almost registering, although the meaning of them he couldn't as yet fathom. It was going to be another long night.

He was beginning to recognise sounds and their sources when a sharp voice had pierced the fuzziness
"Inspector...Inspector, you are needed, something has come up."

A grunt and the slight tightening of facial muscles hadn't quite been the response the young police sergeant was expecting.

"Inspector Abberline, one of the Faberge Eggs has gone missing."

The news was greeted with less interest than if the breakfast eggs had been discovered to have hatched and scampered off around the yard, really Fred Abberline had little time for trinkets. But the insistence of the young officer finally brought him round.

"You are to lead the investigation Inspector; it is of national importance that the Egg is recovered. France will be shamed. The Russian Czar entrusted monsieur le Comte de Richelieu with it and it has gone!"

Fred shook his head and rubbed his eyes, maybe that would make things clearer, not least why on earth he would be entrusted with such an investigation, but it didn't quite- in fact the movement of his head was decidedly not wise, "Just give me the facts...when...where...and if you would…who"

The young constable beamed and pulled out a notebook to read the crime report "on the evening of the 13th October, the Comte de Richelieu reported the theft of a Faberge Egg from his home in the Champs Elysees, a young woman who had been visiting the Comte after begging for a charitable donation which the Comte had felt himself unable to refuse, is suspected to have made off with the Egg worth 3 thousand francs"

Fred opened one eye "and her name?"

"Aimee Blanchard, a dancer in the Moulin Rouge, she is known as..."

"I know that." Inspector Abberline closed that eye again and took a long breath.