AUTHOR: Susan M. Garrett
CATEGORY: Drama, adventure.
MAIN CHARACTERS: Everyone.
THANKS: Thank you for reading with the understanding that I take responsibility only for mistakes of misspelling and grammar. What the characters do and say is entirely up to them.
"Jules? Jules, wake up!"
A male voice, speaking in French, but not one he recognized. Yawning, Jules opened his eyes.
This wasn't his bed. This wasn't his room in Paris. It wasn't his home in Nantes. It wasn't the Aurora or Fogg's London home, or even Shillingworth Magna.
Morning sunlight streamed through threadbare flowered curtains and into the small room - smaller even than his garret in Paris. The faded patterned wallpaper was marked now and again by ancient water stains and there were only two small, pastoral paintings of cows on the wall. The rag rug seemed more for the sake of appearance than for providing any comfort from the cold floorboards.
The bed creaked beneath him as he sat up - he'd been sleeping upon the covers. He was fully dressed, with the exception of his boots, waistcoat and coat, all three of which were lying in a heap on the floor to one side of the bed.
Where was he? What was he doing here?
A young man, also in shirt and braces, was splashing water on his face from a basin. He picked up a towel, wiped the water from his face and hands, then grinned at Jules. "Come on, we'll be late! It'll take us the better part of the day to get through the museum."
Jules caught the towel as it was thrown at him. His companion sat down on a rickety chair and began to put on his boots. Parisian, from his speech, with dark hair and eyes.
A complete and utter stranger.
Sliding from the bed, Jules moved to the window and looked down to the street below. An alleyway, but he heard English from the early morning costermongers. If he had to guess, he would have said the sun had barely risen.
England. He was in England.
Of course he was in England. Last night he'd arrived at Fogg's townhouse, had come by boat and then train in answer to an urgent summons . . . that had proven to be less than urgent after all. He could not be told what the emergency had been or why it had so suddenly ceased to be an emergency - something to do with one of Rebecca's missions - but had been treated to dinner for his troubles.
And what a dinner! Passepartout had outdone himself, each course grander than the last. If his friends were a little distant, if there were looks exchanged between them he was not supposed to see, well, that was simply the ex-emergency, after all. They laughed, they talked, they drank . . . .
He had gone to bed in the townhouse bedroom he'd used before, fully expecting to awaken there.
Not . . . here?
His companion clapped him on the shoulder. Jules turned and was handed his waistcoat. "Dress - we don't have all day! If we don't catch the five o'clock train, we'll miss the boat. If we miss the boat, we'll miss the next morning lecture. And you," he was punched lightly in the chest and took the blow in surprise, "have missed too many lectures already this semester."
"I'm sorry," said Jules, staring. "Who are you? You're in my morning lecture class?"
His boots were tossed at him and he fumbled for them; the one he missed continued over the edge of the bed and to the floor. Tossing the one he'd caught to the bed, along with his waistcoat, Jules rose and grabbed the stranger by the shoulders when he moved closer. "I'm not joking. Who are you? Where am I? How did I get here?"
"Oh, yes, go ahead and forget Gaspar when it comes time to pay the bill, no?" The young man laughed, pulling away. "But the joke's on you - the woman wouldn't let us into the room last night until we paid. And since you were the only one with English money . . . ."
Jules put his hand in his trouser pocket and withdrew two five-pound notes and a handful of coins. He stared in confusion. "English money."
Gaspar seated himself on the other side of the bed and patted Jules on the shoulder. "Don't worry - I'll give you my half in good French francs when we get back to Paris. Don't forget, I paid for the beers we had last night, so you owe me lunch. Not that I'm looking forward to eating anything else here. That dinner? Ugh!" He picked up the waistcoat from the bed and handed it to Jules again. "Get dressed. This trip cost me half my allowance this month and if I'm to live on nothing but stale bread for the next two weeks, I'll need memories of the Royal museum to feast upon."
His waistcoat smelled of beer. Wrinkling his nose, Jules stared down at it. "I can't wear this."
"You've no choice." Gaspar had picked up his own waistcoat and was shrugging into it. "They're unlikely to let you into the museum half-dressed. It's your own fault. You don't hold your wine well, Jules, but I suspect beer is even worse for you."
"No. This isn't right." Jules threw the waistcoat down on the bed beside Gaspar and walked to the wash basin. He tossed the used water into a slops bucket, poured clean water into the bowl, then splashed it on his face. He turned and Gaspar threw the towel at him, which he used to dry himself. "I had dinner with the Foggs last night. We had wine, not beer. And the food was excellent."
"The . . . Foggs." Gaspar's eyes seemed to darken, his smile disappearing behind a scowl. "Jules, you had dinner with me last night. At that pub, remember?" He rose to his feet and walked toward Jules the way a man might approach a timid animal he fully expected to bolt. "We had those awful pies. The woman claimed they were beef, but if they were anything other than cat, I'd be surprised." Gaspar took the towel from his hands. "Are you all right? It's those damned pies, isn't it?"
"I'm fine." Jules stared at his companion. "I just . . . I have no idea who you are. I've never seen you before."
Gaspar's expression was concerned, and perhaps more than a little frightened. "This isn't funny, Jules. Stop it."
"I don't find it particularly funny either. I don't know who you are or what's going on--" He looked around the room frantically. "My journal. Where's my journal?"
"Here." Gaspar ran to a satchel at the foot of the bed and pulled out the battered notebook. "Don't panic, I've got it."
Racing to his side, Jules took the journal from Gaspar's hands and opened it, flipping from one set of pages to the next. His class notes were intact, along with the occasional scribble and story or play idea, but all of his drawings were gone. Anything technical, anything that had arisen from his visions had vanished. Nor was there any sign the pages had been removed. It was simply as if they'd never existed.
"Where are they?" he demanded, slapping Gaspar on the shoulder with the flat of the book. "Where are my sketches!"
Gaspar grabbed the book from his hands and threw it to the floor, startling him. "There are no sketches," he said tautly. "There have never been any sketches. Jules, you can't draw worth a damn, and you know it! You're a student of law. And if your father wasn't such a conceited, overbearing fool--" His fists clenched, Gaspar turned away. "I told him. I told him you weren't well enough for this trip. He thought it might 'exorcise the last demons.' Well, the demons are back and here I am in the middle of London with a raving lunatic."
Stunned, Jules slowly picked up the book that both was and was not his journal and hugged it to his chest. "How do you know my father?"
Gaspar gave Jules an anxious glance over his shoulder. "You're going to be angry with me--" Then he turned. "When he brought you back the last time, he offered me a hundred francs to keep an eye out for you. And I took it." Gaspar looked away. "My family - there's no money there. You know that. I would have kept an eye on you anyway, out of friendship's sake, but the money . . . ." Straightening, Gaspar cleared his throat and met Jules' gaze. "I told you my father had inherited some money - that's how we were going to pay for this trip? It's a lie. Your father gave me the money. You were doing so well; he just wanted to make certain. You have such an obsession with these imaginary English people; he thought if I took you to London and everything went well?"
There was something in the way Gaspar spoke, an edge courtesy of a guilty conscience that made Jules want to believe the fairy story he'd just heard. But it couldn't be true. He'd never met Gaspar before, he was certain of it. This man was a stranger, his tale nothing more than a fiction.
And yet his eyes, as he waited for Jules' reaction, were so stricken with guilt and worry--
"You're not my friend."
Gaspar looked away. "I shouldn't have taken the money--"
"That's not it. Gaspar, I'm sorry, but I've never met you before. I don't know you." Jules held the notebook out, then tossed it onto the floor. "This isn't mine. It's been switched."
There was a long moment of silence, Gaspar suddenly going very still. "Jules, keep calm, all right?"
"Keep calm?" Jules ran his hands through his hair and turned away, walking back to the window. "I wake up in a place I've never seen before and someone who's claiming to be my friend, but whom I've never met, is telling me to keep calm?"
"It's just that - this has happened before."
"It has?" Jules turned to face Gaspar, bewildered. "What has?"
"When it starts, the spell or madness or whatever it is." Gaspar swallowed. "You, um, start spouting nonsense about the Legion of Darkness or the League of Doom or--"
"The League of Darkness," corrected Jules.
That made sense. He'd been kidnapped by the League before - why should this time be any different? But he'd been at Fogg's townhouse. Had Fogg, Rebecca, and Passepartout been taken as well?
He was on the wrong side of the bed to make it to the door. If this was a plot by the League . . . the door would be guarded, wouldn't it? But not the window. If he could climb out onto the roof--
"The League of Darkness," agreed Gaspar, quickly. "Then you start shouting. And that turns into screaming. And then--"
Jules ran his hands along the window frame - yes, that would open. But he paused in his escape plans, hearing a catch in Gaspar's voice. "And then--?"
"Then they take you away."
The words so filled with fear, they arrested Jules' attention immediately. The window forgotten, he turned to find Gaspar watching him with wide eyes. "Take me . . . where?"
"The first time - to the hospital. The second - to the asylum." Gaspar stepped forward and took hold of Jules' arm. "Please, Jules, for my sake if for no other reason, can you pretend that you aren't ill, just until we return to Paris? There's a train in an hour - we can take an earlier ship across. If you must go mad, you can do so at home. Here," Gaspar released him and sat down on the bed in despair, "I don't know what'll happen."
"Nothing will happen here," promised Jules. "My friends will--"
"Your non-existent English friends," corrected Gaspar sadly, buttoning his own waistcoat.
This was absurd. Jules knew he had to escape. He also knew that he had no idea who Gaspar was. For all he knew, this so-called friend could be an agent for the League of Darkness.
And yet . . . there was something in the way Gaspar spoke, something in his manner that indicated he knew Jules - or thought he knew Jules. His fear at the idea of Jules being 'taken away' was not entirely a sham.
Jules sat down on the bed beside Gaspar. "What if I could prove to you that I'm not mad, that my English friends are real? Would you believe me then?"
"Believe you?" Gaspar gave a desperate laugh, something akin to a bark. "Introduce me to these non-existent friends of yours and I'll not only believe you, I'll pay your father back every dime I took from him!"
"Fogg has a house on Saville Row. We'll go there." Jules clapped Gaspar on the shoulder, then returned to the window. "If we climb out through here, there's a drainpipe on the next roof over that we can--"
"What's wrong with the door?" asked Gaspar, pointing over his shoulder.
Jules shook his head, dismissing the option. "It's probably guarded."
"By whom?" To Jules' horror, Gaspar rose from the bed, grabbed his coat, and headed for the door. "I went out this morning to get water for the basin."
"Don't!" called Jules, as Gaspar threw open the door.
No guns. No smoke. No noise. No guards. No League of Darkness thugs, with or without cortical lobe studs.
Jules walked over to the doorway and peered out into the dim hallway. There was another door opposite, a dusty hall, and a flight of narrow stairs going down into the bowels of the rooming house.
Joining him, Gaspar also looked out. "I'd rather use the stairs than the drainpipe."
"To be honest, so would I." Glancing down at his stocking feet, Jules added, "I'd rather be wearing my boots, too."
Gaspar picked up the satchel from the floor and leaned on the doorjamb, watching as Jules seated himself on the bed and began to pull his boots on over his stockings. "Have you gone down many drainpipes recently?"
"One," said Jules, but hesitated, the second boot in his hand. "No - two, I think." Once his boots were on, he picked up his waistcoat, wrinkled his nose at the stench of stale beer that seemed to permeate it, and then shrugged his arms into the holes. "How about you?"
Gaspar shook his head, seeming suddenly uncomfortable.
"What?" asked Jules, as he buttoned his waistcoat.
"The way you answer, you seem so sane sometimes. I can almost believe that you've gone down drainpipes, escaped from villains, flown in an airship." Gaspar folded his arms and sighed. "Almost."
Grabbing his coat from the floor, Jules tapped Gaspar on the arm and headed for the door. "Come on - I'll prove it to you."
End of Part 1