" Hôtel de la Poisson "
Muriel stepped out onto the sidewalk and took a deep breath of the fresh air. There was a faint scent of cinnamon coming from the café down the street. The Arc de Triumph towered over them nearby, while they could see the Eiffel Tower further off in the distance. "Ahh," Muriel sighed, "Paris. What a beautiful city!"
Courage, next to her, nodded in agreement, "Mm-hmm!" He knew that they were there for a serious task, but at least this was turning out better than the rainforest. It felt more like a real vacation.
Eustace wasn't as thrilled, though. After the long trip over to France, he was exhausted. "Let's just find a place ta sleep. Ain't doin' nothin' here 'till I take a nap."
"All right, we'd better look for a hotel then," Muriel said. The three of them started down the street, carrying their luggage with them. Courage kept careful tabs on his little locked box, which now contained both of the Jigsaw pieces he had acquired. Somewhere, he knew, there was another piece in this country, and he knew he had to find it.
As he walked along with the others, his pager beeped. Checking it, Courage read the message, which said, "I dug up some more information. No need to thank me. It seems the piece you're looking for had been on display in one of the galleries in the Louvre. Until recently, that is…in fact, it was only a day ago that it was reported stolen."
Courage cringed, and read on… "The theft was flawless, leaving no traceable clues behind. The investigation is still going on, but in my humble opinion, they don't have a chance of catching whoever did it. If the thief is still in Paris, however, perhaps you can still find him." The message ended.
"Someone beat us to it," Courage said to himself. "I'll bet it was one of those Ebon Shadow guys. Although I certainly hope not!" He imagined how hard it would be to get it back from one of them, and the thought of having to go after them made him shudder.
After a brief walk, Muriel stopped in front of a hotel, with a sign that read, 'Hôtel de la Poisson'. She noticed the vacancy sign in the window and said, "Oh good, we've found a place! I was beginning to think we'd end up walking forever."
They went inside. It was more or less a clean establishment, though it was by no means ritzy. The man behind the counter at the main desk was wearing a green and black striped outfit and a beret. He looked up when they entered and said, "Ah, bonjour, mes amies. Welcome to the Hôtel de la Poisson! Can I help you?"
"We're looking for a place to stay," Muriel asked. "Do you still have a free room?"
"Oui, there is a free room." He turned to take the set of keys from the wall. "You are very lucky, madame, for it is the very last room. Now…the room includes a television, and…"
"Yeah, yeah," Eustace said, snatching the key from him. "Long as there's a bed."
The man nodded, "I'll have someone help you with your luggage, monsieur…"
"Don't bother," Eustace replied. He turned and dumped their entire set of luggage into Courage's arms…he staggered unsteadily from the heavy weight of it. Eustace and Muriel started upstairs, and Courage edged his way up behind them slowly, one step at a time.
As he approached their room, 806, he hesitated…further down the hall, one of the hall lights on the ceiling were out, but he could make out a short figure inserting a key into one of the doors and going inside. The figure paused for a moment and looked in Courage's direction. Only his eyes were visible from the darkness. He then disappeared into the room in front of him. Courage shrugged…it was probably just one of the other people staying at the hotel. Returning to the task at hand, he managed to get through the door with some effort, and closed it behind him.
* * *
In room 809, the figure closed the door behind him. Striding across the darkened room, he went over to a window and looked outside. A police car drove by the hotel, but as he expected, it didn't stop. "Zey are looking for me," he muttered, "but zey will not find me."
Turning back to the center of the room, he went over to a table, which had a small music box sitting on it. He carefully opened up the secret compartment on it, and withdrew the object he had hidden inside. Even in the dim light of the room, the gold Jigsaw piece seemed to gleam brightly. He smiled, "Quite valuable. Once I am out of Paris, I will be able to sell it for…how you say…ze big bucks. And zey will never know it is so cleverly hidden zis way."
His laptop computer, sitting on the table next to the music box, was still on, and he noticed that he had an email waiting. Raising an eyebrow, he muttered to himself, "Qu'est-ce que c'est?" and checked it.
He scratched his chin with interest as he read. One of his underworld contacts found out that the piece he had stolen was actually part of a set, and that there were more of them scattered across the world. "Zis…could make me very rich…very rich indeed…"
Reading on, they mentioned that someone else was rumored to be searching for the same items, and that he has found two of them already. A photograph was displayed, and he instantly recognized it, "Ze dog! Ze one I saw in ze hallway…hmm…" He gazed over at the door and smiled again, "I will simply take ze pieces tonight and be on my way. An easy score…for LeQuack. Hoohoo, hoohoohoohehehehe…"
* * *
In room 806, Eustace lay asleep on the bed, while Muriel sat in a chair in front of the small television that came with the room. Courage was curled on her lap, relaxing as well. He wasn't paying too much attention to the movie that Muriel was watching, since it was all in French. Nonetheless, it was a nice and quiet setting, a sharp contrast to the hectic events of the past couple of days.
There was a knock at the door, and Courage hopped off of Muriel's lap so that she could stand up and answer it. Opening the door, she saw a cart with plates of food on it, including a large covered dish. Pushing the cart was a short duck, wearing the uniform of a bellhop. The disguised LeQuack stared darkly up at her and said, "Room service."
"Oh, do come in," Muriel said, standing aside so that he could wheel the cart in. As he entered, LeQuack cast a glance around the room. He noticed the sleeping Eustace, the pile of luggage…his gaze rested momentarily on Courage, who looked back at him curiously. Finally, he spotted what he believed he was looking for…a small locked box, sitting on a table in the room.
Courage, in the meantime, was lost in thought…he said to himself, "Where have I seen those eyes before…"
LeQuack stopped the cart by the edge of the table, and whisked the cover off the top of the food with a flourish, "Voilà." As Muriel looked over the food he had brought, he casually set the cover down over the box on the table.
"My, it looks delicious," Muriel remarked. "Thank you, sir. Oh! I mean…merci!"
"De rien," LeQuack replied. He slowly started to slide the cover towards the edge of the table, dragging the box along with it. This did not go unnoticed by Courage, who gasped, and ran to the other side of the table, grabbing hold of the cover and pulling it back the other way.
Surprised by this, LeQuack said, "Qu'est-ce que c'est?" and tried to pull the cover back in his direction harder. Courage held on with all his strength. The two tugged back and forth on it for a few more moments, before Muriel looked up from the food and noticed what they were doing.
"What's going on?" she asked.
The two of them stopped, and LeQuack said, "Your dog will not give me ze cover for ze tray." Courage, though, was hopping up and down and pointing at the duck, quickly miming a ferocious burglar. Before LeQuack could say anything else, Courage lifted the cover from the table, revealing the locked box.
Muriel folded her arms, "I'm sure it was just an accident. Wasn't it?"
"But of course," LeQuack nodded. "You should not keep pets in ze hotel room. Perhaps you should keep zis dog out on ze balcony, no?"
Courage waved his arms frantically and shook his head, but Muriel said, "You're right. Besides, it's a beautiful night, with good weather. The fresh air will do you good, Courage." Whining, he went slowly over to the glass door leading out to the balcony, and stepped outside. It was a nice night out there, but that still didn't change anything…he wanted to be inside, to protect Muriel…
As soon as the glass door was closed, LeQuack walked over to it and latched it shut, "I'll just lock zis up for you." Courage pressed his face up against the glass, realizing that he was even more helpless to do anything now. The duck looked back at him from the other side, giving a small, evil smirk, then turned back to the table.
Muriel had already picked up the box from the table, however, and was seated next to the cart, eating the food that he had brought. LeQuack narrowed his eyes, and picked up the plate cover from the table, plus a long-handled spoon.
"Hey!" Courage shouted at the glass. "You'd better stop that! I can see what you're up to!"
"Not anymore," LeQuack answered. He quickly pulled the curtains across the windows and the glass door, blocking the view of the room. Courage shook fearfully…now he had no idea what was going on. He looked for a way off the balcony, but unfortunately, it hung out over the river, nine stories below, with no other safe place to jump to.
Inside the room, LeQuack climbed up on the back of the chair that Muriel was seated on, and asked, "Is everything all right, madame?"
"Yes, it is," Muriel said happily, between bites of food, "Very tasty…my complements to the chef!"
"I'll ring him for you," LeQuack said. He brought the metallic cover down over her head, covering it almost entirely, and banged soundly against the side with the long-handled spoon. A loud *GONGGG* filled the room, and when he pulled the cover off, Muriel was unconscious, knocked out from the sound. LeQuack tossed the objects aside and pried the locked box containing the Jigsaw pieces from Muriel's hand. "At last, I have it!"
Outside the window, Courage heard the loud noise, and looked nervously down towards the water far below. "Ohhh…" he moaned, "…this is a bad idea…but I gotta save Muriel!" Taking a deep breath, he threw himself off the side of the balcony, leaping down from the nine-story height. He let out a loud scream on the way down, and plunged into the water, creating a huge splash. After a little bit of disorientation, he regained his bearings and swam to the edge. He pulled himself out of water, shaking hastily to dry off his fur before running back for the front door of the hotel, "Hold on, Muriel! I'm coming!"
* * *
LeQuack opened the door to room 809 and entered, dragging the unconscious Muriel with him. No need to leave witnesses behind, he thought. She would tell ze police I was here, zen zey would be on my tail once again.
Closing the door behind him, he left Muriel on the ground and walked over to the table, sitting down and placing the box down in front of him. He examined the lock on it and muttered, "Zis will require a delicate procedure to open…" He pulled out a chisel, propping it against the lock, and withdrew a large mallet, striking the chisel and breaking the lock off in an instant.
He slowly opened the box, and as he expected, it contained the two Jigsaw pieces that had once belonged to the dog. Lifting them up to examine them, he said, "Zey are perfect. Just like ze one I have. Zey will each fetch me a fortune! Hoohoo, hoohoohoohooheheheheh…eh?"
His stopped laughing, as he became aware of someone knocking at the door. Curiously, LeQuack walked over…he opened it only slightly, so that whoever it was couldn't see inside, and asked, "Qu'est-ce que c'est?"
Courage was there, in disguise, delivering a telegram. LeQuack raised an eyebrow…who knew to find him here?…but accepted the telegram anyway, slamming the door shut. He opened it up and read aloud, "To: ze duck, stop…(hmmph)…I have important warning, stop. Look behind you, stop. (Hm?)"
LeQuack turned around, and had only a moment to see Courage standing there, swinging a huge boxing glove at his face. With a *clonk*, LeQuack was down on the ground, reeling dizzily, and stars circling his head. Courage took off the boxing glove and tossed it aside, shrugging, "Don't ask how I got in here."
He ran over to the unconscious Muriel and shook her, "Muriel! Wake up!" She slowly started to come around, but he didn't have time to wait, as he looked back to where LeQuack had been lying and suddenly noticed he was no longer there. In fact, he couldn't see him anyplace in the room. "Oh, no!" he exclaimed.
Picking up Muriel over his head, Courage headed for the door. When he opened it, though, he fell back in surprise as he saw LeQuack standing at the doorway. The evil duck said, "You are not going anywhere." From out of nowhere, he pulled out a very large mallet, and held it over his head, preparing to swing.
Courage screamed, "Aaaaaugh!" and ran back into the room. He crossed it quickly and ran out onto the balcony. Looking around feverishly, he spotted a drainpipe going up the side of the building, and quickly started to climb it, still carrying Muriel with him. LeQuack continued his pursuit, starting to climb the drainpipe also.
They got up to the rooftop, and Courage hurried across to the opposite side. Unfortunately, there was nowhere left to go. He was cornered on an edge of the roof that didn't overlook the river, so he couldn't jump. He turned around and saw LeQuack climbing up on the roof after him. He narrowed his eyes and gloated, "I have you now, you dirty little dog…"
With that, the duck charged towards Courage, who tried desperately to think of something. As LeQuack crossed the roof, Courage took out a banana he'd been saving, and hastily ate it. He tossed the peel out on the roof in front of him. When LeQuack stepped on it, he slipped, and skidded forward across the roof, out of control. He barely had enough time to shout, "Qu'est-ce que c'eeEEEEEEST!" before the slide carried him off the side of the roof.
Courage watched him fall…luckily for LeQuack, he landed in a garbage can next to the building, which immediately tipped over and rolled down the street. Unluckily for him, though, it came to a stop against a parked police car. The police immediately rushed out and arrested him…one of them said, "Aah! Ze infamous LeQuack! We have you at last…"
Wiping his forehead, Courage said, "Whew…I can't believe that worked." He smiled, and carried Muriel down from the roof…everything was safe once again…
* * *
They heard in the news about LeQuack's arrest. They were going to be transporting him via plane to a maximum-security prison. The Louvre never got their stolen Jigsaw piece back, but they said, quote, "Oh well. It wasn't really 'art' anyway. We don't know why we put it in there in the first place."
Courage couldn't be more pleased. They had already recovered three of the pieces, and they had barely just begun the search. Once again, like clockwork, the computer back home had paged Courage with their next destination: Egypt.
"It's a shame we couldn't stay longer," Muriel said, as they boarded the next flight to Cairo. "I was just beginning to enjoy Paris…"
Eustace was looking better, now that he had gotten some sleep, but he said, "Ehh, Paris is overrated. Nothin' interesting. Nope…nothin' at all."
"Well, maybe if you weren't asleep the whole time, Eustace," Muriel scolded.
"I'm awake, I'm awake…" Eustace grumbled. "I'll be fine fer our next stop."
As Courage climbed into his seat, he peered out the window and suddenly gasped. Down below, he could see several shadowy people at the terminal. He recognized them as members of the Ebon Shadow. They weren't charging out or anything, but just standing there, watching the plan prepare to depart. Whew, Courage thought. They got here too late…what a relief… The plane taxied out from the terminal and took off from the runway, on the way to Cairo.
* * *
Elsewhere, another plane was soaring through the clouds, but it was dropping sharply from the sky, its engines ablaze and trailing smoke. A lone parachute descended from the clouds, carrying a single small figure, who wore a serious expression, yet still managed to smile a little as he said to himself, "Zey have not seen ze last…of LeQuack…"
TO BE CONTINUED...