"The Law of Averages"
A Gorgeous Carat story for the Moonshadow Tribe's "Things to Think About" Challenge
(A/N Set shortly after the events of "Black Cat Missing"; my thanks to Astraplain for her beta help and input; Gorgeous Carat characters are the property and creation of You Higuri;)
"Hey Sol! Did you hear the news?"
Solomon Sugar looked up from the newspaper he was reading while waiting for his coffee at his favorite café. Standing a few feet away from him were two of his former colleagues on the Paris police force, Pierre Loudon and Henri Duprè. Neither man had been a particular friend of his but it did not pay to be needlessly rude.
"Good morning, Pierre, Henri. To what news do you refer?"
"Claude says he is breaking the Noir case today! Thought you might want to know. How many years did you chase after that thief? Five? Ten?" Henri elbowed Pierre, a broad grin on his face. Claude Montserrat was the man who replaced Solomon on the force–a man two years younger than him, and very ambitious. He'd just been promoted to Chief of Detectives.
Solomon leaned back in his chair and crossed his legs casually before inquiring, "And whom does our Claude say is the infamous Noir?"
"He's holding a press conference this afternoon at two o'clock to announce it. He says he'll have the bugger in custody by then." Pierre seemed to find the situation as amusing as his partner. Both men were disappointed that they did not elicit a more satisfying reaction out of the former police detective, who seemed completely at ease to hear that another man had succeeded where he had failed so often–and so spectacularly.
"I must stop by then," Solomon smiled. "But if I do not make it, please offer my congratulations."
Laughing, the two police officers waved their farewells and continued on down the street.
No sooner had Solomon picked up his newspaper again, than a familiar voice commented behind his ear, "you know about the law of averages, don't you?"
Solomon tapped his chin thoughtfully. "Which particular law would that be, my dear Count?"
Ray Balzac Courland swung one of the café chairs around so that he could straddle it. He gestured to the waiter and in less than a second, a steaming cup of coffee was placed in front of him. Raising one slim dark eyebrow and looking pointedly at the coffee-less spot in front of Solomon, the waiter apologized and rushed back with the order the older man had placed ten minutes earlier.
"That's better," Ray smiled, lifting his cup in a salute to the former detective–now a private investigator. Solomon shook his head at how easily Ray obtained what he wanted. Once he would have been annoyed by just that type of gesture; now, he was more amused than anything else. And cognizant of the fact that Ray's simple air of command got him his coffee sooner than he otherwise would have received it.
Solomon looked at his companion carefully. All physical signs of the ordeal he'd gone through in London the month before were gone. Ray's weight was back to normal, his hair as rakishly groomed as usual, his hands appearing recently manicured, and his raiment as stylishly individual as ever. If there lingered a shadow in the green eyes, it was not visible to the casual observer.
Of course, Solomon Sugar was not a casual observer. He was, however, a sensitive one, and knew better than to inquire after his black cat's well-being. Instead, he waited to find out what it was that Ray wished to discuss. He knew that there was likely a purpose to this encounter beyond assisting a lowly private investigator to obtain his morning coffee.
"So, as I was saying," Ray smiled impishly, "The law of averages. When you think about it, it basically means that at any given time, half the people you know are going to be above average, and half below average. Although, I must say, Sugar, that in your case, the law seems to skew toward the below average side of the equation."
Solomon laughed. "There are days that certainly seems to be the case. But, you have to consider, given the fact that the people I know who are above-average are so very far above-average, there must be a balancing out on the negative side."
"True," Ray nodded solemnly. "That must explain those two clowns. Paris' finest."
"Well, I don't know if I would go so far as to call them Paris' finest. I think it is more accurate to say that they are...among the most average of Paris' average officers." He took a sip of his coffee. Was it his imagination or did the coffee served when Noir was present even taste better? Before he could ask, Ray was voicing his own question.
"Have you ever considered working with the better than average, rather than being hampered by the below average?
Solomon narrowed his keen blue eyes behind his wire-rimmed glasses. He thought he knew what Ray was getting at, but he wanted to make sure. "I'm not sure if I have what it takes. Not that I think I'm below average," his mouth quirked up briefly, making Ray smile in response, "but because I've found that I am not comfortable with certain aspects of the lawless life. I like to be able to sleep with a clear conscience."
Ray scoffed. "A clear conscience is usually just a sign of a bad memory. Do you think those two clowns are ever bothered by conscience? Do they feel a twinge of guilt over the many bribes they take, the crimes they turn a blind eye to because the victim is a person without status or power?"
Solomon had no answer to that. He knew quite well that many of the officers on the force were not completely honest–the degree to which they indulged in criminal practice was, on the average, far more than the ordinary citizen ever imagined. But, there were honest cops too. He had been one.
"And where did it get you?" queried the voice in his head. Ignoring it, he told Ray, "the choices others make are theirs to live with, I only need to make my own choices, and hope they are ones I can live with."
"Exactly!" Ray beamed at Solomon as though he'd conceded some major point– or had answered a difficult question correctly. "You know, there are many things I need done in my various businesses which require keen observational skills and a ready wit. The type of task I really cannot delegate to Laila, nor trust to Florian, good as they both are at what they do."
Solomon was dying to ask what exactly it was that Florian and Laila did, but he was not sure how he could word the question without seeming dismissive of Noir's two closest companions. Or without seeming to pry into what might be very personal territory. But Ray seemed to read his mind. He grinned mischievously.
"Well, there are some tasks Florian undertakes at which he is beyond compare," Ray looked over his coffee cup at Solomon. "But I daresay you would not have any interest in those tasks."
Looking at the handsome young man seated across from him, Solomon thought he wouldn't be too sure of that. But it would not be good to let his mind wander along those paths too long, he told himself. Staring closely at his green-eyed tormentor, he asked shortly, "Is there a proposal on the table, Ray, or is this all just your morning whimsy?"
Ray made a point of looking offended. "I am most serious, Sugar. I need an investigator, someone to do preliminary but detailed research on people I am considering doing business with, for example. You enjoy your autonomy, I realize that, but I believe we can work out a means by which you can continue your own projects, as long as you are available when I need you."
Ray then named an annual salary that was far more than Solomon had made in all his years with the police force–added together! He managed to keep his jaw from dropping in shock–but it was a close thing.
"It is an attractive offer," he admitted. "And I find I can be...flexible...when it comes to the nature of the task that I can be comfortable with, although I warn you that I have an excellent memory, so I will need to obtain a clear conscience the hard way."
Solomon continued, "also, I have an aversion to jails, so I would not wish to be a fall guy for anyone else."
Ray looked hurt. "Do you think I would do that?"
"No, not really."
"You are right then–I think your sojourn among the law enforcement personnel of our fair city has made you suspicious. But I can tell you one thing, you will always have the right to turn down an assignment–if you have a good reason for doing so. And if you ever end up in jail, though we must hope that doesn't happen, you would be much better off with some of the better than average working for your release than with resting your hope on the lower half of the averages we were discussing."
"And it is the higher half that works with you?"
"Well," Ray smiled modestly, "I don't like to brag, but in truth, yes. As proof let us consider this afternoon's press conference, being held by a certain newly installed chief detective. You were told, of course, that he has captured the illusive cat burglar, Noir."
"I did hear something to that effect," Solomon nodded. "But I trust I need have no fears that he has in truth succeeded where I failed so spectacularly."
"I wouldn't word it quite like that," Ray grinned, "but yes, you can rest assured that he is about to fail most spectacularly."
"You know who it is, then, that he has accused?".
Ray would only smile mysteriously...and suggest that Solomon be sure to be present for the denouement.
Solomon Sugar was surprised to see how large a crowd had gathered for Claude Montserrat's press conference. In addition to the usual members of the Fourth Estate, there were representatives from the other three estates, the Church and the Nobility being joined by a large contingent of commoners.
"Oscar Wilde once commented that men used to have the rack, and now they have the press," a cultured voice said from a point just behind him. Turning, Solomon smiled ruefully at his Grace, the Duke de Rochefort. They both had taken their lumps from a press not much concerned with truth, but very interested in raking up mud whenever it could.
"Good afternoon, Florian. Are you alone?"
"No, I'm with you at the moment," Florian smiled gently. "But I expect Ray to be joining us soon. He does so love an entrance."
Florian made small talk with Solomon as they waited for Detective Montserrat to take his place in front of the crowd. Finally, he came out from the police department building, two burly street cops holding between them a slight man whose face was covered by a hood.
"This one likes to maintain a certain measure of suspense, doesn't he?" Florian murmured.
"Rather like a magician at a fair," Solomon agreed, wondering who the poor soul in the hood was, standing there like a condemned man. Of course, if it were the thief Noir, he was as good as condemned even without a trial. But...the man, while of a height and build similar to his black cat's, was far too defeated looking to be the real Noir.
At least, so Solomon thought. And he was far above average in the skill of observation.
After waxing less than eloquent but certainly verbose for a good thirty minutes, detailing the investigational skills, brains and courage that had enabled him to succeed where so many others had failed–Solomon felt as though the entire crowd turned to look at him– Montserrat gestured for the cowl to be removed from the prisoner as he proclaimed, "Behold, I give you–the criminal, Noir!"
A gasp went through the crowd as a pallid young man was revealed– none other than the Cardinal's godson, Marcus Aubergine, nephew to Paris' Mayor, who stood up red-faced at the sight of his poor, bruised nephew. The Cardinal, sitting on a plush velvet seat brought to the festivities by his servants, cried out in outrage while the Mayor stormed up the steps and stood protectively by the young prisoner.
"What is the meaning of this travesty? Why do you have my nephew trussed up like this, you fool?"
There were calls for an explanation, and poor Detective Montserrat was hard pressed to answer all of the rapidly fired questions that were coming at him from the press as swiftly and fiercely as the demands that his prisoner be released into the loving care of his powerful family members.
Adding to the din came the screams of several of the noble ladies who had wanted to catch a glimpse of the notorious Noir.
"My emeralds! They're gone!"
"So are my sapphires!"
Throughout the crowd, women were screaming and fainting–or screaming and stamping their feet. Noir had struck again while all of Paris stood looking at a very embarrassed, soon to be former, chief detective.
"Well, that was amusing," Ray said. Solomon turned, surprised. He had not noticed Ray joining them.
Florian smiled and looked at his lover. "You would be amused at some poor man's career ending."
"Well, you know how it is when these detectives build their careers on capturing Noir. Only one can win such a battle–and the average Paris detective is so far below average," Noir smirked.
"How did you...?" Solomon started to ask, then closed his mouth.
"I think you can no doubt guess, my dear Sugar."
Solomon looked around at the chaos– and smiled.
"I suspect it has something to do with the average cat burglar being far above average," he said.
"I knew you were too smart to be a detective," Ray said. "Why don't we go to my house and discuss terms?"
Stealing a glance over to where the red-faced Montserrat stood, trying to excuse his inexcusable mistake, Solomon decided it was time to join the above-average side of the equation.
"I want to discuss that salary," he told Noir. "I believe it is a bit too low for a man of my abilities."
Ray looked dumbfounded, while Florian looked pleased.
"I told you he was exactly the right man for us," the amethyst eyed man said, then he took both men by the arm and turned them in the direction of home.