Ms. Mangjeol's eyes flicked up to meet his for a brief second. There was something in them, some quality that belied the composure she was now effecting. She had looked terrified.
Oh well. That was her business. Sarosin had his own to attend to. He nodded and smiled a personable smile as Ms. Mangjeol introduced him to Renard and sent the Frenchman on his way. Mr. Rouletabille made his way to the door, looking more than a little dejected.
Sarosin took the newly vacated seat, his smile faltering for a moment as the cushion squished soddenly under him. Yoon regarded him casually.
"It's a pleasure to finally meet you," Sarosin began. He reached into his trench coat and retrieved a cigarette case. From this, he took a cigarette and lit it, and returned the case to some inner pocket. This time, his hand reappeared with a handsome billfold. He sat this squarely on the table before him. "I understand," he continued, "that you might be able to help me locate someone? I certainly hope this is the case."
It occurred to Renard as his hand closed on the doorknob that he hadn't really expressed his gratitude to Ms. Mangjeol. He turned back to squint through the darkness at her table, but she was already embroiled in a tete-a-tete with the other fellow, Mr. Narita. Sensing that his further participation in the conversation would be distinctly less than welcome, Renard decided to leave things as they were. He reached up as if to tip his hat to the bartender, suddenly and shatteringly remembered the fate of the well-worn trilby, and deftly managed to scratch his head at the apex of his hand's ascent, thus making for what appeared to be a fluid and purposeful gesture. Bon. His face thusly saved, Renard twisted the doorknob and exited the Passione Rossa.
Another beat of thunder heralded his arrival onto the soaked street, where he proceeded down the block toward the nearest taxi stop. Wherever he was bound to venture next, Renard highly doubted he would be able to make use of the small black automobile for transport.
There were far fewer pedestrians out on the streets now, presenting a landscape in stark contrast to the bustling tableau from this morning and afternoon. Most of the citizens of Ecruteak had sought cover indoors, unwilling to brave the storm. Renard could not say he sympathized; were it not for the loss of the well-worn trilby and the disappearance of the driver's window, he would have no qualms with the rain, which he considered to form a suitably dramatic backdrop for his chasse torteuse. A man passed by on the sidewalk beneath the trees, leading along two children by the hand, all three utterly engulfed but for the eyes and noses by colorful raincoats. "Let's just hope Mommy and Keith find all the flashlights 'cuz you two've got some reading to do, power or no power..." Renard looked back over his shoulder. He had a curious idea this was the father and the older two of his children from the security footage. Ah well, there was no recognizing them from behind in that attire.
Ponder the name "Gloomy Joanne". A nickname? An actual name? Or could it even be Nicole?
He approached the canopied bench, Allheal Lane's taxi stop, with relief. The bench was unpopulated. Renard added himself to it and, after crooking the massive black-and-white-striped umbrella over one shoulder, went through his pockets. Something had just occurred to him. He wanted to have another look at the torn-out page from the visitor's log. He was absolument positif the entry had been signed "Yoon Mangjeol" when he had first seen it, not "Gloomy Joanne", whoever that might be. There was the folded-up page. He took it out, unfolded it, and read again.
Very sorry, Renard. I’d forgotten when he was scheduled to arrive… No, I don’t know where you might find her, but if half what I’ve heard about you is true, I don’t suppose that should really pose a problem, should it dear?
Renard's strapping and gymnastically adroit brain executed another impeccable back flip.
He turned the page over and back again to be sure this was the same entry he had noticed in the lobby of the Ecruteak Gallery of Art and not an addition subtly penned in during their conversation while his gaze had been elsewhere. This time he scratched his head quite honestly and out of legitimate necessity.
Renard had already started to wonder whether the fourth point on his list was no longer a constant to be taken for granted and he was now beginning to feel he might have some doubts about the fifth point aussi.
He was tempted to run back to the Passione Rossa and question Madame Mangjeol about this verbal virage, but Renard did not wish to impose on Mr. Narita and in any case he had Mlle. Keigler to worry about for the moment. What had Mme. Mangjeol meant, that Renard should be able to find Mlle. Keigler "if half of what she'd heard about him was true"? What could she have heard about him that would make his search easier?
Could she somehow know what was--?
Why, Renard thought, there were less likely things Mme. Mangjeol could know, and no doubt did.
Yes... Renard did possess some notion of where to carry himself next. This was a fortunate juncture at which to come to that conclusion since even as he did so, a taxicab pulled over on the curb in front of him. Renard folded down the massive black-and-white-striped umbrella and got up off the canopied bench with a smile.
Post by The Evil Biscuit on Jun 15, 2010 16:58:04 GMT -5
'Ah, bok bu adam? Who the hell is that?'
'Will you SHUT UP?! He is fare! You know, fare? He paying customer! Hey! Hello! Hey, is fine, is fine! Come, come!'
'Onu sevmiyorum. O fransız görünüyor.'
'So what if he IS French!? He pay money just like anyone else, 'cept you, you damn pig thief! Now shut the hell up and move, I want to see him.'
The cab was a classic, one of the original '78 Checkers - or at least, it had been once. The paint was many shades under the traditional taxi yellow, chipped and flaked with rust and improvised bodywork. The tires seemed to hold just enough air to keep the rubber from flapping, and the front left wheel never did quite line up with the other three, gyrating on a wild axis and causing a subtle but ever-present thump-thump-thump that oscillated the cab with the rhythm of a rowboat in a hurricane. The interior was hidden from view by heavily tinted windows, but red and yellow lights could be seen twinkling in the oily shadow, and they danced off the edges of several gold chains and woven braids hanging from the rearview mirror. Unintelligible Eastern music ululated mutely from speakers that were clearly turned well past optimum hearing levels.
A face appeared in the cab window, hidden by thick smoky shadows and illuminated in low red neon. Shiny black eyes glittered in the post-downpour twilight, straddling a tremendous pitted nose, it itself perched atop what might have been the largest moustache Renard had ever seen. He was Turkish - unforgivably Turkish - and when he spoke, yellow teeth flashed from beneath the brushy folds of his wiry Turkish hair.
'Yes, yes! Is fine, is good! Many room in backseat - very low fare!' The driver stretched a thick, meaty hand over his passenger, whose face was obscured, and beckoned to Renard.
Post by Beelzebibble on Jun 16, 2010 14:37:47 GMT -5
"A godsend!" Renard cried as he stepped off the curb. He was referring to the arrival of the taxi, not to the driver's moustache, but this was truly such an auguste tuft as to put any walrus to shame. Renard felt a measure of respect for the man already. "Messieurs, my automobile chose the worst day to malfunction. Un moment, please..."
Renard fished around in his pants pockets for the twenty-six dollars and thirty-six cents from Albarello, which had of course decrut slightly as a consequence of his purchase at Demitasse. Still, a twenty-dollar bill, three quarters, two dimes, a nickel and three pennies remained in his pockets. He drew all of these out and showed them to the driver. "Messieurs, this money is all I have. Would this be sufficient to earn your service for perhaps an hour? I must return to my apartment, which is quite close by, and then I must travel to another location in the city as yet unknown. May I purchase your patience for that length of time?"
After noticing (with some difficulty through the moustache) the driver's hesitant frown, Renard clarified, "The address of my apartment is 776 Rotheca Avenue."
Post by The Evil Biscuit on Jun 16, 2010 20:33:14 GMT -5
‘Damn your fat pig head, it plagues me to my grave! MOVE IT- ahh, yes sir! Where can I take you this fine evening?’
Renard was at the window now, and could easily see the face of the passenger – or rather, his eyes, glittering like Arabian jewels in the smothered black that still hid his face. They burned into him, trying to set him ablaze with furious determination. The driver waved his fingers slightly to draw his attention away from his less-than-enthusiastic brother.
"Messieurs, my automobile chose the worst day to malfunction. Un moment, please..."
The driver laughed heartily. ‘Is no problem, my friend! I have to fight this piece of baka all the time –,’ he punctuated this with a slap on the dash with a meaty palm, ‘is like my wife, yes? Ugly, stubborn, and too wide in the back!’
As he laughed at his own joke, he watched with hungry eyes as the Frenchman fumbled in his pockets for currency. The little pezevenk had better have good money if this cab were going anywhere with him in tow. Finally he produced a sum of meager dollars and cents, which he presented to the driver.
"Messieurs, this money is all I have. Would this be sufficient to earn your service for perhaps an hour? I must return to my apartment, which is quite close by, and then I must travel to another location in the city as yet unknown. May I purchase your patience for that length of time?"
The driver smiled, a wary, forced grin. He calmly reached for the money, grubby fingers barely caressing the green cotton paper as he hesitantly counted what was there. His forearms bulged, trying to control the urge to snatch the money right from the Frenchman’s hand, so pressing was his greed. He thought it over for a moment, then looked up at Renard.
‘Could you… turn away for a moment?’ ____________
When he was sure the Frenchman was no longer facing him, he consulted his brother.
‘Ne sen düşünür mü, kardes? What do you think, brother?'
'I think he is a cheap piece of baka. Biz ayrilmaliyiz. We should go.'
'He’s the only fare we’ve had! I’m taking him.'
'O kokar. He smells. I don’t like him.'
'Well, nobody likes you, you shrimpy little pesevenk!'
'Orospu çocuğu! Whoreson! The dogs choke on your farts.'
'You talk about our sainted mother like that?! I’ll have your tongue!'
'You’ll have my fists upon your brow, pig thief! What- HEY!’
The driver pounced, and with that, the two were embroiled in a bitter slapping match. The percussive cadence of pops and slaps seemed to chime in perfect rhythm to the tinny melodies of the radio, and the car squeaked and grunted as it rocked back and forth. Finally the brother threw his hands up in defense and shouted something in Turkish, and the driver, hands raised to deliver another barrage of stinging backhands, finally conceded. He leaned his head out of his window with an embarrassed chuckle.
‘Yes, this will be enough. Please, come. Rotheca Avenue, yes?’ ________
The interior of the cab was lavish, fit for a prince. The dash, pillars, and roof were covered, every inch, in thick velveteen carpet, smelling strongly of incense and sandalwood and many other foreign spices. Rugs and beaded trappings draped over the seats, and trinkets of all shapes and sizes tinkled and rattled from every corner. Draped from the rearview mirror was a monstrous amalgamation of prayers, images of shieks and saints, tassels, beads, bells, and religious symbols, It seemed ready to rip the frail mirror right off the windshield. Smoke drifted sensuously from the front console; Renard could see that it was the remaining half of a powerful-smelling incense candle.
As they rounded the block, the driver leaned his head back to make conversation. ‘I am sorry, we have not been properly introduce. My name is Azim ibn Waqas ibn Faruq al-Burak; this is my brother, Faris.’ Faris grunted, folding his arms and trying his best to force his body deeper into the seat. Azim gave him a sidelong glance and continued. ‘We have operate this taxicab for many years – eh, what is word… Faris.’ He looked at his brother. ‘Faris.’
‘What is word? We work, ah… self. No companies.’
‘Freelance! Yes! We operate the freelance taxicab.’
‘Yeah, and we’re flat broke because of it.’
‘Shut up shut up shut UP you filthy bed-wetter!’
‘ME shut up?! YOU’RE the one who-‘ he started to retort but Azim raised his hand and Faris returned to his brooding silence. Azim smiled at Renard.
‘Never mind my brother. He is… bitter. Ah, here we are.’ _______________
Waylon Bell watched the cab pull up and could not help but take caution. Who on earth would show up to Rotheca Avenue in that? Oh well, no matter. They would receive the same respect and courtesy he showed any tenant. Everyone who walked through his gilded revolving door would be treated like the king or queen that they were. He took two careful steps off the stairs and approached the cab door, gloved hands at the ready to receive bags, coats, and with this weather, umbrellas. When it opened, his eyes lit up as bright as his smile.
‘Mr. Rouletabille! Wonderful to see you again. Where, may I ask, is your lovely automobile tonight?’ He gave the Frenchman a sly grin. ‘Left it at a lady friends, haven’t you?’
Suddenly the sound of muffled shouting in a strange tongue thudded from the cab, and soon the car was rocking back and forth violently as the al-Burak brothers engaged in another battle royale.
Post by Beelzebibble on Jun 17, 2010 21:16:01 GMT -5
Renard extricated himself from the taxicab with reluctance; the scent inside had been intoxicating and he regretted that he could bring no more than a few plumes of the exotic effluves with him out into the open. Fortunately he'd be back in the taxicab soon enough. Renard would admit that he looked forward with somewhat less enthusiasm to a second round of bickering between the two comrades of implacable Near Eastern descent but now that they were in possession of his money the only convenable course of action seemed to be to literally ride it out. He unfurled the massive black-and-white-striped umbrella so as not to incur too much rain while he spoke to the driver at his (slightly rolled-down but entirely present) window.
"If I do not return within ten minutes, the remainder of the money is yours and you may freely depart. Agreed?"
The royal moustache curled upward. "Yes, yes! Is okay!"
Renard nodded and turned to hurry up the steps to the door of the apartment, where the excellent young colored bellhop held the door open and folded down the massive black-and-white-striped umbrella for him. "Mr. Rouletabille! Wonderful to see you again. Where, may I ask, is your lovely automobile tonight? Left it at a lady friend's, haven’t you?"
"Ah, well..." Renard recalled the image of the small black automobile languishing on the dock near Allheal Lane. "Actually, oui, I suppose, in a manner of speaking--" Unintelligible shouting cut him off. The men in the taxicab had found another point of dissentiment.
"Friends of yours?" the bellhop, Waylon, observed.
Renard scratched at the back of his head tensely. He was growing impatient to head upstairs. He'd just remembered that there was a spare key and he wished to situate himself in front of the apartment door with all haste so as to remind himself where it was. "Yes, you might say that. Again in a manner of speaking, mind you," he said quickly. "As for whether it's the same manner of speaking as before or a different one, that I fear I can't tell you definitively." He took the massive black-and-white-striped umbrella back from Waylon, who had actually used the little strap to rein it in, a neat trick Renard had quite forgotten. "Garcon," he prattled, inching toward the staircase, "could you -- could you remind me to give you a suitable tip the next time I'm carrying some cash on hand? It should be soon, I hope. Merci," he concluded already halfway up the first flight.
There: he was onto the third floor again, and soon standing in front of his apartment door, with the potted bird-of-paradise to one side. Renard tapped one finger to his nose and tried to remember where the spare key had been concealed.
Oh wait. He didn't need the spare key at all. The regular key ring was right there in one pocket of his trousers.
With a nod to the Strelitzia reginae, Renard unlocked the door and found himself once again in his dear old apartment. He quickly went around the living room and turned on the assorted lamps in their scattered locations atop chairs and stools. The iron chandelier was not outfitted with any bulbs and there was no longer enough sunlight streaming in through the open window to illuminate the room. Actually a modest quantity of raindrops had been streaming in through the open window instead, dampening the chaise longue. Renard hurriedly closed the window, fetched the striped towel off the table and laid it out over the chaise longue in a dim attempt to dry it. Apropos of drying things, Renard then sat down upon the striped towel, unlaced and removed his shoes, replaced his drenched black socks with a new pair off the bookshelf, and restored the shoes.
And then he did a thing which had been so obviously foreshadowed at the beginning of the story that its execution at this point seemed by any law of fiction immanquable.
Post by Beelzebibble on Jun 19, 2010 16:18:20 GMT -5
Renard stood up off the chaise longue and crossed under the chandelier through the living room. He might have carried on from here into the kitchen, but rather he came to a stop in front of the bedroom door and lingered there, gazing at the dark gray wooden surface riddled with streaks and knots. Was that really a symbol of crucifixion formed in the negative space between the four panels of the door? Could one not instead see the Mariner's Cross, the heraldic ancre signifying fresh hope and renewed effort? And why not? It was his own door; Renard should have felt the freedom to invest it with whatever symbolic puissance he desired.
Centimeter by centimeter, as he slowly steeled himself for the imminent consultation with his collection, eager to test it against the name which all his troubles today had earned him, one hand reached out for the black iron doorknob.
Of course the door only opened just enough to allow Renard to squeeze his un-coated form inside. This was, however, pardonable. Every excess square foot of the floor, after all, was consumed. No surface area wasted. Indeed there was really only a very narrow path leading from the door to the bed: a canyon enclosed on both sides by paper. With all of the newspapers stacked nearly to the ceiling from every available level, the decorations in the bedroom would have been depressingly gris if not for the smattering of pale colors throughout the columns. These were small sticky notes -- a highly fortuitous find at Albarello, before which he'd had no idea they existed -- which Renard had affixed to each newspaper as he had acquired it. The purple tags denoted the papers in whose stories Renard had found nothing mysterious or unexplained; the blue, those which had sparked at least a glimmer of curiosity; and so on up to the red sticky notes which, like the edition he had read this morning, had prompted Renard into immediate investigative action. Upturning all the stacks in order to retroactivement apply this system of visual categorization to the older newspapers around the perimeter of the bedroom had been an exhausting chore, but Renard had set himself to it with aplomb, happy to revisit each dusty old report and editoral in turn.
This, after all, was his collection. In this archive was a treasure trove of knowledge from decades of Ecruteak Posts, Cherrygrove Tribunes, Olivine Journals and the like, such as any information broker would surely covet if so much of it were not now obsolete. Yes, if this was the true half of what Madame Mangjeol had heard about Renard Rouletabille, perhaps her confiance in his ability to locate Mlle. Keigler was not so ill-founded.
Renard pushed through the canyon to stand beside the bed, the only piece of furniture here not piled high with newspapers. He surveyed the landscape of sticky notes like multicolored marks upon a sheet of music and closed his eyes. The colors lingered in his mind's eye, suspended en le vide. He raised one index finger. The colors rustled slightly. The finger moved through the air. The colors rippled and darted about in piscine schools. Strands of printed text played out in Renard's mind.
—of her interpretive touches seemed within the bounds of taste. Still, now and again she—
Yellow. Orange. Red. Purple. Blue. Green. Yellow.
—looking for a global approach,” he said of both public and—
Orange. Red. Purple.
—dispel fears that invalidating such patents would—
Renard opened his eyes.
He was pointing at a single newspaper in the upper third of a stack atop the dresser, tagged with a sticky note of the same azur hue as a backpack he had seen earlier that day.
Immediately Renard slid columns out of the way and displaced the newspapers above this one in order to access it. He picked the paper up. The Ecruteak Post's 14 October edition from three years ago. Renard read the top headline. FOREST FIRE THREATENS ILEX. Non. He scanned the other headlines. AQUA OPERATIVES RALLY AGAINST DRILLING. Non. Renard flipped through the sections until one page prodded his memory. Here was an excerpt from the real estate section.
This home located at 82 Pennyroyal Drive, Ecruteak was sold to Channery Keigler for $178,500 on October 12. 82 Pennyroyal Dr has 3 beds, 2 ½ baths, and approximately 1,280 square feet. The property was built in 1995. The average listing price for similar homes for sale is $182,517 and the average sales price for similar recently sold homes is $174,169. 82 Pennyroyal Dr is in the 539477 zip code in Ecruteak. The average price per square foot for homes for sale in 539477 is $76. "Found you, mademoiselle," Renard murmured.
Decline the offer to engage in conversation with... well... anyone, on your way down. Despite many offers. More than you would normally have.
The overstuffed overcoat swept heavily around his shoulders, the various glass evidence tubes tinkling melodiously along with the sway of the coat's folds. Then, after Renard switched off the assorted lamps in their scattered locations atop chairs and stools, he dashed out of the apartment. He even managed not to get the coat caught in the door when trying to exit or bang any shins on the magnificent potted plant, both of which he took as presages excellents.
"Some weather, huh?" a sopping-wet neighbor of university age and pimpled complexion said across the hall while fiddling with the key to his own door. "Jeez!"
"Jeez indeed, my young man!" Renard cried. He would have perhaps not so stringently agreed with the youth if it had occurred to him that they had both now taken the Lord's name in vain but Renard did not remain on the hall long enough to ponder the matter. He nearly flew down the stairs in one acrobatic bond, eliciting a cry of surprise from a Hispanic tenant the next floor down.
"Are you okay, mister?"
"Quite a bit better..."
Renard stumbled a little but deftly caught his balance and continued down the next staircase with such entrainement et precipitation that he actually ran directly into a richly-attired senior lady whose embroidered purse slid down off her arm and onto the floor of the lobby. The contents of the purse, accessories and slips of paper primarily, scattered across the wooden surface. "GOOD HEAVENS," she observed.
"Oh! Excuse-moi, Mme. Pridian--" Renard fell back and hurriedly knelt on the floor to collect her effects while the white-haired woman leaned one hand on the mailboxes to regain her balance in an action not unlike that of a woman he'd seen in the Gallery.
"Mr. Rouletabille!" she exclaimed. "You couldn't pay a little more attention where you're running, could you?"
"Please forgive me, Mme. Pridian," Renard said. "I wasn't--" A tube of lipstick fell back from his fingers and rolled away onto the floor. A dark-skinned hand picked it up. The bellhop, Waylon, had glided in to assist.
"Let me take that off your hands," he said. He nodded at the purse.
Waylon flashed his signature pearly smile. In this case it was difficult to tell whether it was sincere. "Go on, get out of here, Mr. Rouletabille," he said. "This is what I'm paid for."
Renard declined the offer to argue and instead merely gave the purse to the bellhop. Waylon set about gathering the rest of the purse's contents while reassuring the elderly woman: "Now, Miss Pridian, there's no harm done, if you'll just give me a second here..." "I apologize again, Mme. Pridian," Renard said to her. "Just be careful, won't you," she said. Renard hurried out of the lobby with a backward "Merci, Waylon, merci!"
The two comrades of implacable Near Eastern descent quelled their scuffle just long enough to hear him give them the address. "Perhaps if you know the neighborhood, you might let me out around the corner rather than at the house directly?"
Post by The Evil Biscuit on Jun 23, 2010 22:34:13 GMT -5
'Pennyroyal Drive? Of course I know it! Between Faris and I, we know whole city like palm of hand!'
'Back of your hand, brother. The expression is back of your hand.'
'Allah kahretsin, Goddammit, I'll show you back of my hand!'
The cab pitched and skidded through traffic as though it were nothing more than parked obstacles to be negotiated at the highest speeds possible. Red lights meant nothing to Azim al-Burak - traffic signals were only meant for citizens, after all, and Azim was only visiting. In his home country, no one paid attention to the lights; they were simply decoration. If you couldn't handle yourself on the road, you weren't meant to drive.
'...and that is how my second cousin, on my mother's side, may she be sainted and crowned in Paradise, brought corn pilaf to Ecruteak city. My third cousin, very more ingenius man. Always thinking. He built...'
The cab drifted around a four-way, tires shuddering as they stroked the pavement with thick black lines. Azim barely avoided clipping a sedan and recovered just in time to slip tightly between two large sport utilities. Faris had nodded off, his head lolling back and forth with each pitch and swerve of the Checker.
'...but you have not seen beauty until you have visit Ankara, my friend. Or the Bosphorus! Crystal blue water, white beaches, lovely women... European, of course. Sometimes a Turkish wife find herself lost on beach and suddenly she remove bikini like the Swiss women and a Allah, she make a man's yumurtalar jump right back in, ha! Then of course there is Riviera...
They were out of the city proper now, and the streets were lined with quaint Victorians and modern domiciles, interspersed with typical three-bedroom houses and the occasional apartment complex. Trees hung over the streets in a thick canopy, blotting out the starlight but allowing the moon to twinkle through here and there.
'...and I say to Waqas, Waqas! This shawarma tastes like sümük! I could eat pig's feet with more pleasure than - ah, here we go. Pennyroyal! I uh, I drop you one street over, on Rosemary.'
The Checker screeched to a halt, and Azim leaned an arm over to better see Renard.
'You are good man, Frenchman. Good listener. I hope, ah, whatever you look for on Pennyroyal, you find, yes?'
Post by Beelzebibble on Jun 24, 2010 16:48:13 GMT -5
Again with regret, Renard pushed open the taxicab's door and removed himself from the back seat, taking care not to leave behind the massive black-and-white-striped umbrella, which he promptly opened since the rain had not at all diminished. He staggered forward a bit again before recovering himself. His legs, after the impact from descending the apartment stairs, had not been prepared for such a ride as this. Renard could not exactly say he would miss the Turkish fellow's casse-cou driving -- and he was completely baffled as to how the other man could have fallen asleep along the way -- but the scents and stories within the automobile were a different thing. "Thank you," he told the driver. "You are a good storyteller, sir..."
As the taxicab rattled off, leaving Renard on the corner of Rosemary & Pennyroyal, he wondered how he would subsequently return to the heart of the city. Well, once he had apprehended Mlle. Keigler and secured Le roi Midas, no doubt he would be able to use her telephone to call the police. They would escort the detective, the criminal and the painting all to their respective proper locations.
Renard looked around the neighborhood, grayed by the rainfall but still quite seigneurial, with most of the houses set up from the street upon forested hills, as 82 Pennyroyal had been in the photograph. The street was not paved with cement but rather overlaid with red rounded bricks. The water cascaded down through the indentations toward flatter land. There was something unusual about the entire neighborhood which he could not quite identify. Ah, non, it was the fact that none of the houses were lit. The sky was dark enough at this point that they ought to have been. Renard remembered what the father had said to his children. Perhaps this neighborhood had suffered a power outage. Renard's understanding was that a bolt of eclairage needed no more than graze a telephone pole and the entire area would be crippled.
Undeterred, Renard set off around the corner onto Pennyroyal. He was approaching Mlle. Keigler's house from numerically above. The mailboxes read "96... 94... 92... 90... 88..." and then the house from the photograph came into view.
The sleek silver Corvette was not parked in the driveway. Possibly Mlle. Keigler was still out although egalement she might have made the sensible choice to store the vehicle in the garage. Renard hung back, unwilling to approach the house directly, but he couldn't discern a face pressed up against any of the windows to observe him. Even so, he balked at the idea of crossing in front of the house to climb the driveway. Much too visible. Renard rocked back and forth on his heels for a moment and glanced quickly around the neighborhood again, but there seemed to be no one watching him.
Eventually he trod gingerly onto the property, moving through the garden so as to take what cover was available among the bushes. His shoes sank a bit into the damp, clingy mulch in an altogether unsettling way. He hurried up the lawn and passed the front porch to the garage, whose two massive doors included squat, wide glass windows. Renard peered through the glass into the darkness. The sleek silver Corvette wasn't there, just a bicycle propped up against a stepladder on one wall. So Mlle. Keigler was still out after all. Quel commode.
Renard stepped up the stairs onto the front porch and tried the door. Locked, of course. No obstacle to an experienced sleuth of his caliber. Renard retrieved the lockpick which this morning had been threaded through the handles of the refrigerator and which since then had been protruding slightly uncomfortably from one pocket of his trousers. Renard inserted the hooked tip of the lockpick into the lock and twiddled it until a barely audible click and a faint change in tension told him that the first pin had been pushed upward to its shear point. He repeated this for the other four pins, further and further into the lock, and then withdrew the lockpick. He tried turning the doorknob. This time the door opened and allowed Renard to take his first few steps into the maison of the thief who had stolen the Burgled Boullogne.
The hallway was of course quite dark. Renard instinctively found the light switches and tried them. Yes, indeed, the power was out. So be it. Perhaps there would be a flashlight somewhere. Renard took a few more steps into the hallway and closed the door which was roughly when a massive hulking beast arose out of the shadows to confront him. If Renard Rouletabille were a lesser man he would have screamed, fled, and gone on to pursue a less hazardous career such as accounting.
But the monster was a great black-and-beige Caucasian shepherd which, instead of snapping Renard in two with one fearsome morsure, pressed its snout into his hands and licked him. The giant tail wagged forcibly and the nearly-prehensile nose sniffed his overcoat with excitement. Once Renard could be certain that his heart had returned to its usual pace and consistency, he managed to smile and pat the brute on the head. It panted up at him happily. If this animal had been installed as a guard dog then Renard could not honestly call it altogether too emerite at its profession. As a companion however the shepherd was if anything overqualified.
Discover the dog is actually cute and cuddly and very friendly.
The dog sat back on its haunches in the hallway and watched as Renard made his way through the first opening in the wall he found. He was now in another large room on the front side of the house. There were some cylinders standing vertically on a cabinet under the defunts lightswitches. Were they...? Renard picked one up and fiddled with it. A circle of light blinked into existence on the far wall. Yes, a flashlight. As to why four or five of them had been grouped in the same location, Renard couldn't say. Surely it would be wiser to disperse them throughout the house? But no matter. He moved the light around to investigate the living room, as this now revealed itself to be.
Firstly he noticed something unusual about the shelves. They were not traditional bookshelves of the massive variety which he possessed in his apartment. Why, each of them was in fact three or four much smaller shelves stacked on top of each other. So too he noticed that the table at the far end of the room was not one great rectangular table but rather two smaller square tables stood side-to-side. There was no sofa but only a few plush chairs in front of the television. Here was a living room furnished with all the proper accoutrements, yet all of them were fragmented into disparate elements; no fixture was too bulky or heavy to pick up and carry alone. And the flashlights were not the only small collection of similar objects in the room. All of the plastic cases containing VDVs were stacked in two equal columns: alphabetically, as Renard realized when he drew nearer. All of the magazines on the small coffee table by the plush chairs were likewise organized. The framed photographs on the mantel were neatly aligned in a row, although one of the frames had been turned around so as to face the brick chimney instead of the room. The books (this was growing harder and harder for Renard to believe) were sorted approximately by the color of their spines. There were paintings -- none Le roi Midas, Renard was sorry to see -- on each wall, and they seemed to have been grouped by subject matter: flowers on the north wall, landscapes on the east, animals on the west, people on the south. Even when similar items were not arranged together, there was a symmetry to their placement: the four vases stood in two opposing pairs on opposite sides of the room; a globe atop one bookshelf was mirrored by a model yacht atop another. The house, Renard suddenly realized, was exactly as filled with objects as his own apartment -- but while Renard's home was an encombre mess, Mlle. Keigler's was a vision of almost inhospitable perfection.
There was only one item in this room that seemed out of place. At one corner of one of the square adjacent tables lay open a dark gray plastic shopping bag, such as might have been supplied by a drugstore one of whose services could hypothetically have been the development of photographs.
Faced with two sources of curiosity, Renard decided to satisfy the (he presumed) less important urge first. He crossed the room toward the fireplace and surveyed the framed photographs on the mantel. The central and largest portrait depicted a family of five: the father bespectacled but not bookish-looking, muscled, with receding blond hair; the mother a brunette of working stock, holding a tiny girl of the same hair color in her stout arms; two more children, both blond, a boy and a girl, in the foreground, the son slumped, baseball-capped, wearing a contraint smile, the daughter's head turned aside, only just catching the cameraman out of the corner of her eye. Renard studied the photograph carefully. If this was la famille Keigler, he believed he was now looking at Channery.
He moved along the fireplace, taking in the other scenes with the help of the flashlight. The mother and father, arm-in-arm, sat on a stone wall against a Mediterranean sunset; the brother, older now, stood in full baseball attire on green turf, with his bat at the ready; the little sister, perhaps ten in this image, was discernible from out of a choir of girls in white blouses and dark skirts. There again was Channery, younger actually than in the central photograph, toddling alongside her mother down an ensoleille street and clutching a stuffed squirrel half her size; there again, a graduate in robe and cap, hugging her father amid a cluster of similarly dressed youths.
Renard reached out for the reversed frame, took it off the mantel, and flipped it over. Then he blinked and looked at the other photographs again. He didn't recognize this young man with the ruffled brown hair who was sitting on an open windowpane while Channery, in the foreground, applied a screwdriver to a piece of machinery whose function vastly eluded the French detective. Not a member of the immediate family, clearly. A cousin? An unrelated acquaintance? Well obviously, whoever he was, this young man must have fallen out of Mlle. Keigler's favor for her to have turned around the frame like that. This made sense for roughly two and a half seconds until it occurred to Renard to wonder why she would have bothered to keep the photograph there rather than move it to a less conspicuous location such as the grenier or simply throwing it out.
Ruffle through Albarello bag. Find photos. Resist the urge to look at them immediately and pocket them for a more in-depth look when you're somewhere other than the site of a breaking and entering. Check them out right the f*ck then and there.
But Renard acknowledged that this was no time for idle speculation. He set the frame back upon the mantel, reversed again in accordance with the owner's wishes, and turned his attention to the much more fascinant matter of the shopping bag from Albarello.
His slender fingers batted away the plastic straps and pulled the first manila envelope from the bag, for indeed manila envelopes in plentiful supply were the contents thereof. Not handguns, explosives or even a grappling hook affixed to a length of rope -- mere manila envelopes exactly like the one Tom the Albarello employee had given to Renard. Each carried a sticker with one name beneath the Albarello logo and a few unintelligible strings of digits:
Photographs. Splendid. Now he had her. Here he would find images snapped of Le roi Midas from all angles and of countless other nooks and crannies throughout the Ecruteak Gallery of Art, whose development at Albarello had been delayed, which hadn't stopped Mlle. Keigler from envisioning the gallery and formulating her plan of entrance all by herself. Or else pictures from after the theft, revealing Mlle. Keigler and other depraved villains cavorting at some illicit celebration of the money the burgled Boullogne would provide them, perhaps using the painting, flipped upside-down and supported by chairs, as a table for some perverse "drinking game".
Renard opened the first envelope, shook out the photographs into his hand, and shone the flashlight upon them with a grin of accomplishment. Then the grin faded. Then he held up the first photograph on the stack for closer inspection. Then he looked away. Then he squinted back at the photograph. Then he looked away again.
Represented in the photograph were the two small square tables which currently stood side-to-side in front of him.
Renard looked back at the photograph and then back at the two small square tables. Yes, they were identical, the only difference of course being the absence of the Albarello shopping bag in the photograph. He slid the photograph around to the bottom of the stack and looked at the next one. The columns of VDVs were depicted there in perfect arrangement, exactly as they appeared in real life. Another photograph. There was the globe atop one of the bookshelves. Another photograph. The television. Another. The paintings on the eastern wall. The next few. The plush chairs. The next handful. The books on each shelf: those with black spines, those with brown, with gray, with white...
Renard set the stack down upon one of the small square tables and seized the next manila envelope. He shook out the photographs into his hand. They depicted a kitchen. He took another few manila envelopes along with him under his arm as he moved out of the living room, the flashlight's illumination guiding his path. Oui, here was the kitchen, with more small tables and stools, and several miniature refrigerators arranged in a row on a short, wide folding table rather than one full-sized unit. He stuffed the kitchen photographs back into their envelope and opened the next one as he moved on. Here was the dining room. Everything was photographed. The study, likewise. And so for the salon, and the deck outside. Even the first-floor bathroom and closet were documented.
Once he had wound around the first floor back into the main hallway, Renard had exhausted the envelopes he'd taken with him. The Caucasian shepherd, splayed out on the staircase, dozed, absolutely unconcerned by Renard's presence. The rain battered insistantment the glass of the front door. Renard returned to the living room.
He set the manila envelopes he'd taken with him back down upon the table and picked up the living room stack again. After passing by the magazines on the coffee table, the frames on the mantel, the model yacht, and so on, the photographs abruptly switched to wide snapshots of the entire room from various angles, not focused upon any isolated details. This had been the pattern for the photographs at the bottom of each of the other stacks as well, and in each case the sudden shift had struck Renard as faintly eerie. As he flipped through the wide shots of the living room he felt an uncomfortable prickle around the back of his neck. A nonsensical idea had fixed in his head which he could not shake: that as he turned each photograph over to the bottom of the stack and revealed the next one, eventually he would come upon a photograph that depicted Renard himself standing there, in the living room, perhaps even holding up the stack and the flashlight; and that after that, the next photograph would depict someone or something else emerging out of the tenebres to greet him...
Once he'd reached the end and circled back around to the photograph of the two small square tables, he put the stack back down onto the aforementioned two tables a little hurriedly.
From the hallway he heard the dog let forth a brief, lazy whine.
He briefly wondered how he'd come to be here, in this darkened house belonging to a stranger, facing a bag full of photographs developed under a false name and portraying the same house in excrutiating detail. Where was Le roi Midas? Upstairs? Downstairs? Or was it even here in the house? How had Renard bumbled his way through this absurd fool's quest all the way here and yet never managed to answer one question without two more taking its place? Why had he taken on this cachotterie baroque at all? So far it had yielded nothing except grounds to question his own sanity. Renard wished he had never started into this case. If only he had filled his pipe with bubble juice instead of tobacco this morning! He bemoaned the mistake as he stood the flashlight on end upon one table. For if he had filled the pipe with bubble juice instead of tobacco, it would have produced smoke instead of bubbles, thus preventing him from needing to smoke the rest of the bubbles out the window. In turn this meant he might not have noticed when Mr. Breck the mailman had arrived, and if another diversion had caught his attention sufficiently to forget about the mail altogether today, no doubt Commissioner Williams and Inspector Landsvale would have solved the mystery and arrested Mlle. Keigler without Renard needing to lift a finger.
Also the well-worn trilby would still be in his possession.
That settled it. Renard vowed never again to let the small box of tobacco with enclosed matchbook from Le Chat du Noir and the tiny plastic bottle of pink bubble juice confound him. He puffed the pipe stoically, expecting tendrils of smoke to waft upward obligingly, and spluttered as great pink bubbles emerged instead. En sa songerie he had filled the pipe with tobacco instead of bubble juice. Well! His mind had been elsewhere and anyway this was the last time it would happen. Renard had more important things to think about. He set off with the intention of pacing the living room in furious thought for a few laps, then perhaps to collect the remaining manila envelopes and explore the rest of the house, but unfortunately his foot caught on a leg of one of the plush chairs and Renard stumbled. The pipe fell from his lips and skipped away onto the dark floor somewhere.
"Zut alors!" he grunted.
He seized the flashlight off the table and stooped over to fumble around in the shadows for the pipe. He had an idea it had rolled under the coffee table. Then all at once an electric wheeze sounded throughout the house and the lights in the neighborhood came back on. The living room, fully lit, revealed a woman with dirty-blond hair standing in the doorway which led toward the kitchen. In one hand she was holding up Renard's pipe.
Say something about your pipe vanishing. Imply she had stole it earlier, and you missed it.
"Aha! There it is!" he cried, pointing at the pipe. "Mademoiselle, r-return my pipe immediately, and -- and renounce your vile ways of... p-picking pockets and..." He was faltering. She appeared completely unruffled.
"Sure thing, chieftain," she said. "Catch..."
And she tossed the pipe to him. The pipe sailed in a neat arc through the air and Renard held up both hands to catch it. Magnificent. What coordination. He'd assessed the object's trajectory sans faute. His hands closed over each other. He was not holding the pipe. Renard blinked and looked down at the floor. No, the pipe hadn't fallen... Channery was laughing. He looked back at her. She was holding up the pipe exactly as if she'd never thrown it at all. For a moment he considered the possibility that her power involved turning time backward. This hypothesis is not to be counted among the three brief flashes of inspiration since of course it would be proven untrue slightly later on in the scene.
"Oh my god..." she got out between chuckles. "Look at you -- I mean--" (This is when the second brief flash of inspiration surged in. Renard slipped one hand into a coat pocket and pressed his index finger to his thumb several times as if depressing buttons.) "You with that sad sack face, how'm I supposed to not fuck with you? C'mon, it's just too easy."
She set the pipe down upon one of the bookshelves.
Jam hands in pocket, and twiddle fingers. A moment later, attempt to bluff that you've dialed the police on a cell phone. Fail due to some piece of info that you don't possess about cellular telephones.
Renard started in again, his moustache herissent in indignation not only at her cruel joke but that a young lady would use such profane language. "Mademoiselle," he declared, "you may laugh now, but I have just dialed 911 on my cellophone! Very soon the police shall arrive, clap you in irons and take you away. Then we shall see who giggles and guffaws loudest!"
Channery had ceased laughing.
"Really? No. Damn!" She considered this for a moment. "Out of curiosity, who's your network? Centel?"
"No kidding." Channery lowered her face and gazed at him in a manner irritatingly reminiscent of Mme. Mangjeol. "How's that working out for you? Made any calls since 1993? No?" Renard fumbled for words. She leaned against the doorframe and crossed her arms. "Have I lost -- I've lost you. 'Kay. You're bullshitting me. That's the SparkNotes version. I call your bullshit."
"But...!" Renard blustered.
"Now of course I could call the cops and have you taken in pretty easily. Actually, I'm not sure -- are you...?" She straightened up off the doorframe again. One hand dropped to her side. "You remember the specifics on breaking and entering around here? Cause I forget. But I'm pretty sure right now I'm technically allowed to kill you." Renard jumped. Soudainement Channery was holding a golf club which he certainly had not seen anywhere in the room previously. She stepped forward. She was not smiling. "Right? Is that how it works? Maybe I'll just break your arms and smash your kneecaps. The defense can totally swing that."
The third brief flash of inspiration which arrived to frapper a la porte of the hallowed hall of Renard's mind was to run for it.
However the moment he turned for the hallway he was confronted with the burly shape of the Caucasian shepherd, standing in the other doorframe and displaying a monstreux snarl. A rumbling growl came from within its cavernous jagged-toothed mouth.
Non, non, non, non. These were poor ideas. Though Renard's vieillis sensibilities rendered him loathe to admit it, this young woman was clearly prepared to engage him in combat. Additionally, though he balked still further at this truth, she would plainly overtake him with no effort. Her health, stature and weaponry easily dominated his own; by the time he could close with Channery so as to make use of the small yet capable serrated bread knife in one of the inner pockets of the coat, she would have bashed his ribcage in with the golf club. And besides that fact, she rather than he was the one who could claim the two-hundred-pound Molosser as an ally. No, not a bit of it. Any movement toward escadrille would bode far worse for Renard than for his two opponents.
Non, non, non. What a hideous proposal. The very thought! For him to give himself up and allow himself to be captured by Channery would not only constitute a blow against Renard's dignity and pride, it would also spell his ruin. She would call in the police to arrest him, and perhaps even arrange for him to be framed for the burglary of the Boullogne. The Commissioner would see to it Renard was fed on stale bread and water in a musty dungeon cell for life! He recoiled in horror at considering such blasphemies.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN MY HOUSE I'M OLD AND SENILE GIVE ME MY DOG
Non, non! These were worse ideas still! One's bovine fecal matter had already once been exposed by the cunning Channery. One could not possibly hope to trick her into thinking it was she and not one who was trespassing here. One was a fool and a churl for permitting this conceit to so much as take form in the recesses of one's mind!
Non! Renard's libido was not remotely impelled to action at this instant, merci beaucoup. Attempting to initiate any such activities would only lead to shame, disgrace and humiliation, separately and in combinations!
Throw your bubble mix to the floor, hoping it turns into smoke.
Oh what the hell.
In a moment of mindless abandon, Renard uncapped the tiny plastic bottle of pink bubble juice and hurled it down onto the floor with no idea of what would occur next. He was pleasantly surprised. After a sound like a petard going off, a thick cloud of grayish-pink smoke filled the living room. Channery invoked the Lord's name in vain and buckled down, rubbing her eyes and coughing. A stealthy retreat now seemed the sensible action. Renard took a few steps toward the hallway and suddenly wondered whether he had been struck by a cannonball. Actually it was the enormous dog Micmac which planted two beefy paws upon his shoulders and pinned him to the living room floor. Renard cried out in shock and the Caucasian shepherd responded with an eardrum-shattering bark full on in his face. Renard's limbs turned to jelly, his bones rattled to the marrow.
Channery stood up with a wheeze. She had tossed the golf club aside and was now clutching a fire extinguisher, presumably as a reflexive response to the sight of smoke; though there was obviously no risque d'incendie she did not put the extinguisher down. "Holy shit," she said slowly. "The hell kind of smoke bomb was that? Rig that yourself?"
Renard would have responded in the negative but he was having a hard enough time breathing without the addition of speech onto his present list of concerns.
The brute's head jerked upward to regard Channery with wide, adoring eyes.
Channery beamed. "Who's a good boy Micmac?"
The brute panted happily. Saliva dripped down onto the gasping Renard's lapel. He would have protested if this were possible.
"Who's gonna take this guy's leg off at the knee if he tries escaping again."
The brute snarled down at Renard. Snarling inspired less sheer heartstopping terror than the bark. Rather it evoked more lent skin-crawling horror.
"That's what I thought. Then I guess Micmac that it is you who's the good boy. Now step off before you crush the man, would you."
Micmac heaved his bulky frame off of Renard and lumbered back to his post at the doorframe leading into the hallway. Renard pushed himself up onto his hands with deep breaths. Channery squatted down beside him, her cargo pants bristling with tools, and rested the fire extinguisher on one knee.
Get her to say her name backwards so she gets sent back to the 5th dimension for 90 days. That will give you enough time to solve the goddamn mystery and tame her dog.
"Mademoiselle," Renard said heavily. "...I... I implore you, mademoiselle Keigler, to reconsider--"
"I said that I implore you, mademoiselle Keigler, to reconsider this--"
The woman frowned. "My name's Nicole Hatfield."
Renard pshawed. At this stage he would hear no denials. "Your name is Channery Keigler," he said bluntly. "'Nicole Hatfield' is the pseudonym under which you enlisted the services of Tom the Albarello employee to develop these baffling phot--" He was interrupted by the sensation of Channery slamming the bottom of the fire extinguisher against his chest, pressing him back against the cabinet behind him. Now it was his turn to wheeze. She leaned in very close.
"See this?" she said softly and rather unnecessarily in reference to the fire extinguisher. Eyes wide, he nodded.
"I'm keeping your teeth inside your head for the moment. For the -- key word there. Moment. Okay? So you can answer me instead of gargling and bleeding. After that, you and I are gonna reassess the tooth head situation and see where everyone stands." She withdrew. The fire extinguisher stayed where it was. "So champ," she said. "Tell me what you know."
Say that you read it in her police file. They're onto her, and anything she does to you will only make her case go worse.
An invention occurred to Renard which he put into effect aussitot. "I learned your real name," he said gradually, "after consulting your file at the police station, which contains a full description of the crime you have committed as well as your--"
"Oh my god seriously you are the worst liar ever," Channery observed, cutting him off. "Wait, so, did they -- did they actually go in and like, drill the lying parts out of your brain, or what? Are you some kind of truth cyborg? 'Cause it looks like you're really going against your programming, here, slinging all this bullshit my way."
"Don't say that!" Renard managed to sputter.
"Oh, please don't say that word again. I can't stand to hear young women using such malodorant language. It breaks my heart..."
He was expecting her to tease him for his old-fashioned perspective, perhaps to repeat the word a few times at increasing volumes, or even to string together an array of utterances more profane and choquant still, but she did not. Instead she studied him for a moment, biting her lip, and then relaxed the fire extinguisher slightly. "All right, I can respect that," she said eventually. "Let's see... Your lies are so stupid, insubstantial, and actually physically disgusting... that the only way I can describe them is by way of comparison to excrement. Better?"
"Bear with me. I'm not that eloquent."
Renard imagined that he caught a hint of a smile on Channery's face with these last words, but he found it hard to reciprocate as he pressed on: "But what makes you suppose I'm lying?"
"Well," she said. "The police aren't on to me, that's what. You've met Williams, I assume." At his nod, she continued. "Now see, if Williams had even the slightest idea what'd happened, I'd already be in a striped suit dragging around a ball and chain. He doesn't really do the whole sublety... thing." She paused. "Especially not with people like me."
In the doorway, the dog Micmac yawned. Despite this frightening etalage of teeth it seemed to have relaxed somewhat, no doubt in tandem with its mistress. The rain continued.
"So you're not with the police, you're totally harmless, and you found me some other way. Explain please."
Renard sat up slightly more. "Mademoiselle, I would be happy to oblige, but my throat has grown regrettably somewhat parched. Is it possible I could trouble you for a glass of something to set the tongue wagging? Cognac, perhaps?"
Channery laughed aloud. "Oh wow," she said. "I don't know who you're giving more undue credit with a line like that."
"What do you mean?" he asked as he accepted the plastic bottle of water that had appeared in her hand.
"I mean I don't know whether you're giving me too much credit for thinking I'd have something like cognac on hand... no, buddy, pull the little thing up--" (Renard stopped trying to unscrew the dark green cap and instead pulled the little thing up) "--or you too much credit for thinking I'd give it to you if I had it." She reached out and tipped the bottle up in his hands. "Now just pretend it's a wine bottle and you're too pathetic to use a glass, come on, this is easy."
Sure enough in a moment cool water was trickling into Renard's mouth and he marvelled at yet another minor yet ingenieux application of plastic. Channery let the fire extinguisher drop to her side and stood up. She offered a hand to assist Renard in standing as well. She pointed to one of the plush chairs in front of the television and he sat obediently, taking another sip from the plastic bottle of water.
"Now then," said Channery.
"Yes," he said.
"Let's start with your name. Level the playing field a little."
"My name," he said for the final time that day, except possibly when he would call the Ecruteak police department later although that is a brief conversation which we will be able to skip over without harming the narrative, "is Renard Rouletabille."
"You don't say. And here I had you pegged for a Spaniard. That was sarcasm," she added quickly in response to his look, "you don't need to correct it. So, Rules. How'd you find me?"
Renard considered this question over another swallow from the plastic bottle of water. "I suppose it was when I noticed you on the... Well, today we passed each other in the parking lot of Albarello, as I'm sure you must...? Oui. You see, later on I was watching the security footage from the Gallery of Art, the day before the burglary, and I couldn't help but recognize you there, looking at the..." He trailed off. Channery had grabbed the golf club once again. The Caucasian shepherd had snapped to attention. Renard recoiled in his chair slightly.
"Is this going where I think it's going?" she demanded.
"I'm, ah, not quite sure where you think it's going, Mlle. Keigler..."
Renard understood after a second. "Well, yes," he admitted. "I did pay a visit to Madame Mangjeol later in the day... I was simply curious because she'd left her name in the visitor's log and I thought that..."
Channery was shaking her head, looking away toward the wide window. She mouthed a word which looked somewhat like "pitch" although this would have been an insolite interjection at this moment.
"What does she know about me?"
"Altogether, not much," Renard said immediately. He had already abandoned the possibility of pretending that Mme. Mangjeol had told him anything more than he currently knew. Channery's capacity for lie detection had so far proven uncanny. "Your name... not your address, I had to find that myself... a connection to the Giarrettiera family... implication in perhaps some petty shoplifting cases here and there..."
"Does she know what my power is?"
Channery had fixed him with a puzzled glare. "And you didn't tell her what my power is?"
Renard fixed her with an equally puzzled glare. "I don't know what your power is."
Insistently: "Yes you do."
Resolute in ignorance: "Mademoiselle, I do not."
"Oh, Christ, seriously?" Channery rubbed her forehead. "I mean, really? Didn't I show you on the dock? What about the pipe? What about the everything else oh my god Rules don't tell me you're this dumb."
Renard chose to ignore the insult. "If you could spare a more comprehensive demonstration," he said coldly, "I would greatly appreciate it, mademoiselle Keigler."
"Fine," Channery said immediately. "Awesome. I will. You know why? Because the fact that you've gotten this far without figuring it out is... I mean, what the fuck? Okay, sorry. It's ridiculous, pal. I pity you almost. Stand up."
Renard stood up and faced her directly.
Renard did not move.
Golf club still at the ready, Channery stepped forward and laid her right hand on his shoulder. Then she maneuvered around the coffee table to the other end of the living room, near Micmac. She turned to face him again.
"Look down," she advised.
Renard looked down. He flinched. A very faint pattern of light in the shape of a handprint had briefly come into existence on his coat where Channery had touched his shoulder. Then the coat disappeared and he flinched quite a bit more violently. He looked frantically at Channery. She was holding the coat by one shoulder with her right hand.
Renard fell back onto the plush chair, his epoustouflant mind reeling. To say that he understood everything would have been a dire overstatement but it was eminently fair to say that his comprehension of the situation had taken a leap forward. The burglary of the Boullogne came down to this, then. One (probably faked) loss of balance, one steadying palm, and Le roi Midas had been hers. No trace of a break-in? Nothing on the cameras but the painting's instantaneous disappearance? What else could they have expected? And of course Mlle. Keigler had only stolen one painting. She wouldn't have dared to go around pawing every work of art in the Gallery. Even the Commissioner and the Inspector would have noticed.
The unexplained cases of shoplifting? But of course she had been the common factor! The incident on the docks? She'd set the notes up exactly as she had with the knowledge that she could withdraw the painting at any time she liked! The pipe, even? A dirty trick. But a very impressive one.
Renard drew in his breath slowly. She was rummaging through his coat pockets. "Mademoiselle," he said at length, "you have an astonishing talent..."
"'S okay," she said. She was flipping inattentively through his notebook. Evidently she couldn't read French. She tucked the notebook back in and took out the rainbow-colored metallic disk. She oisivement snapped the rainbow-colored metallic disk in half and dropped both halves into a small plastic dustbin beside one bookcase. He attempted to protest, but not quite vocally enough. She procured the knife. "What's this?" she asked. "A butter knife? Is this -- This isn't for self-defense, is it? Are you kidding me?"
Renard took a closer look. Why, a butter knife it was. He was sure he had taken a small yet capable serrated bread knife with him from the kitchen! Ah, well, he'd been a bit hasty this morning, perhaps.
"Actually I guess you could take someone's eyeball out with this," Channery said upon further reflection, holding the knife up to the light. "I mean, you couldn't. You're a pushover. I could. Maybe. Never tried it but I feel like it's a pretty simple concept. Kind of..." She stabbed the butter knife forward in the air and made a scooping twist. Renard pressed himself as far back into his seat as possible. "Kind of like that. I don't know. Whatever."
She returned the butter knife to the inner coat pocket and moved on to the outer ones. "Oh look at you," she said upon discovering the magnifying glass and the various glass evidence tubes. "Sherlock Holmes! You're really doing this up old school, huh Rules?" Completely at a loss, he nodded faintly. "Good for you, boss. Keep the old stories... oh. Wait. Hold up."
And hold something up she did. The folding camera, to be precise.
"Hold up," she breathed. "Stop! Look at this thing. Amazing, I didn't even know they made these anymore!"
Renard brightened. "Ah!" he said. "Yes, well. It's quite old, as I'm sure you can imagine..."
"A museum piece," she clarified. "And it still works? God, this thing is awesome! How does it even--? Okay so you just swing this down and pull the lens out..." Renard was momentarily afraid she was going to break it as casually as she had the VDV, but this was not the case. In fact she fiddled with dexterity and care that a master mechanic would have been able to appreciate. "Jesus how did they know how to make these back then? I'm so used to digital, I can't even imagine... This is some camera, Rules!"
Post by Beelzebibble on Jul 13, 2010 15:37:05 GMT -5
Renard watched Channery drop down onto one of the plush chairs in front of the coffee table, scrutinizing the folding camera. "Little loose here," she muttered of one of the mechanical joints. "Let me just..." And a screwdriver appeared in her hand. Non, justement, she hadn't used her power that time; she had simply pulled it out of one of the pockets in her trousers. She rested the camera on its side upon the marble surface and set about re-securing the screw in question. "There," she said fondly. She held the camera up and collapsed and expanded it a few times. Renard might have taken greater issue with a stranger handling one of his possessions but this was a different case. Actually, seeing his beloved old camera give such delight to a young person put an idea into Renard's head that was superficially painful and yet, in some sweet way, felt correct.
"Mademoiselle," he said, straightening up in his chair, "I wish to make a proposal. I will give this camera to you if, in exchange, you will return Le roi Midas to the Gallery of Art where it rightfully belongs."
He leaned forward, eagerly awaiting her response in the affirmative to this offre genereuse. She had to see the emotional investment behind his words. The camera had been his only one for decades and it meant so much to him yet the return of the burgled Boullogne would be worth any cost.
"Oh the camera's mine," she replied brightly. He blinked. "Oho. Please. This camera isn't going anywhere. It is way too cool." He started to raise his voice in protest. She pushed on. "Sorry, Rules, but your stuff's forfeit. You knew the risks when you took the job... of... breaking into my house." She pulled out the lockpick which she had discovered in her earlier rummagings through the overcoat. "Speaking of, I think I'm gonna hold onto this too. Always wanted one. Nice guy like you really shouldn't be snooping around anyway." She dropped it into one pocket of her trousers along with the screwdriver. Renard was too deprime by the loss of the folding camera to give the lockpick a second thought.
"I suppose," he said sullenly, "now that you have touched it, it's yours anyway, is it not? As is everything you've ever touched."
For some reason his hurt tone failed to elicit an apology from Channery, who had returned to studying the folding camera from all angles. "Nah, not really." She took her first successful photograph with the camera, a portrait of the dog Micmac, who bore himself nobly up for the occasion. The camera whirred in obedience. "Thing is, I can't retrieve anything if I don't know where it is. Basically. Like I have to, you know, visualize its location and be pretty accurate." She snapped a picture of Renard, who squinted against the flash. "That's how it works. I think. There's no user's manual for Powers, can you believe that?"
Renard had averted his eyes in case she photographed him again but this proved to be the perfect opportunity to reinspect the living room in light of this new information. He cast his gaze again around the color-coded bookshelves, the alphabetically sorted VDVs, the pictures assigned to walls by subject, the geometric arrangements of vases and chairs and (this evening at least) flashlights... Someone who could instantaneously retrieve anything she had ever touched could afford to live in conditions, if anything, even more salissant and cluttered than Renard's own. Someone who was constrained to retrieve only objects she could locate in her mind's eye might easily find her lifestyle shifting in the other direction.
An ugly possibility had stalked into his thoughts.
"Why do you feel at liberty to tell me these things?" he asked in a low voice. "And, s'il vous plait, do not respond that you're only letting me in on the secret because you pity my stupidity. Do you intend to kill me once you're satisfied I've understood?"
Channery gaped at him for a moment, her mouth open but wordless.
Then: "What? Kill you? What are you -- No! Jesus!" She raised her hands by her sides, fingers splayed, in an exaggerated show of peace. "Hey, come on. What the fuck, Rules? Sorry. But you think I want to have to deal with a dead body right now?"
"That's not quite... the most reassuring way you could have phrased that answer, mademoiselle..."
"Okay. I'm not killing you. Neither's Micmac. Better?" Channery folded her arms. "So since I'm not allowed to pity your stupidity, here's another reason. I don't care if you know how I did it because, drum roll please, I'm at the airport in a little over an hour. After that I'm on the way home. And knowing Williams as we both do, I kinda doubt he's interested in making this an international pursuit." Her gaze dropped to his feet. "You walking back to the city? Maybe I should take your shoes and socks too... slow you down a little extra... Nah, too mean. See, Rules? We're friends now, look at us. I'm trying not to be mean to you!"
At her pause, Renard was finally able to get an accusation in edgewise. "But there is no airport in Ecruteak!" he cried. "Mlle. Keigler, I am calling maintenant your bovine fecal matter which is comparable to excrement!"
Channery rolled her eyes.
"Rules," she said. "I am only going to be not mean to you if you quit saying dumb things. This is Johto. Gimme a bike I could get to any other city in the region in like a half hour. Besides you know I'm flying out tonight. What do you think this is for?"
And in her right hand she held up a sheet of paper which had not been there an instant before. A logo with an iconic depiction of an airplane topped the page, followed by a dense amount of small text accompanied by six letters and digits printed in large block letters and a bar code. The most frappant detail was that the two bottom corners of the sheet had been torn away. Renard recognized the paper instantly, although he had never before seen this part of it. Though his coat was still on the marble coffee table, he did not need to retrieve the two scraps of paper bearing Channery's handwriting to surmise that this sheet of paper would be complete with two additions:
omplete rules for the payment of rities are available at all airport ticket cations. Some airlines do not apply these consumer travel from some foreign countries, although other consumer s may be available. Check with your airline or your travel agent.
loss of or damage to baggage parts hooks or other items attached to baggage. As set fort checked or unchecked baggage: money, jewelry including w electronic equipment, including computers, valuable papers or documen described in more detail in the Contract of Carriage.
"See, now," Channery said. "Smart friends. Not dumb friends. This is how I want us to be, Rules."
Post by Beelzebibble on Jul 20, 2010 17:01:54 GMT -5
As his mind's eye literally pieced the sheet of paper with flight-related information together with its two torn-away corners, so did Renard metaphorically fit together more pieces of the puzzle surrounding him. He looked toward the dark gray plastic bag from Albarello which was still stiting on one corner of the table amid a few of the manila envelopes he'd pulled from it.
"The photographs," he continued, "are -- are for the benefit of..."
Channery nodded. "Yeah? Go on, warlord. What are they for the benefit of?"
Renard snapped up in his seat. He had it. "Permitting you to move a l'etranger for an extended period of time without the burden of moving your possessions overseas! You need merely consult your collection of photographs and you may call any item in this house instantly to your residence out of the country!"
"Oh my god bingo! There we go, Rules. Smart friends! Up top." She leaned forward in her chair and stretched out one hand to him, the palm flat against the air. He blinked. She wavered. "Just... Just raise your hand like this," she added. He raised his hand like that. She thrust her hand forward and fetched him an urticant strike on his palm with her own. He slumped in his seat, rubbing the smarting skin. "Sorry," she said. "Little rough. I'm sorry."
But the pain was of no concern. Renard was already forgetting about it. The square tables, side by side, on which rested the Albarello bag, had taken on a new meaning. So too had the small boxy bookshelves. And the multiple miniature refrigerators placed in a row in the kitchen. "Your power," he said. "May I hazard a guess as to the plafonnements placed upon its usage?"
"The pluffy what?"
"Ah, excuse me..." Renard cast around for the right English word. "The -- The limits, or shall I say restraints... the boundaries perhaps, upon your ability?"
"Oh. Right." Channery leaned back and crossed her arms. "Hazard away."
"Well then, I must venture that you may not retrieve items too large or heavy for you to carry without assistance. Hence the--"
But she cut him off. "Awesome, Rules! Look at you! Such smart friends. That's exactly how my power works. You are doing Lupin proud, buddy!"
Renard was too pleased by the look on her face to point out that she was more likely to be considered a spiritual successor to Lupin than he and that this was no more than three quarters a compliment. Furthermore he remained more than a bit perplexe at how freely she was betraying this information. He could not help but wonder whether the fact that she would soon depart the Archipelago was not her only line of reasoning here.
Another question however had occurred to him. "And shall I presume that any attempt to retrieve an object too enormous for your grasp would yield only whichever part of that object you had touched, given that the object could be broken down into discrete components?"
Channery chuckled a little and twisted one strand of hair, which Renard noticed for the first time was still mildly wet from the rain. "I hear you," she said.
It was not difficult to envision. A brief moment was all Renard needed to see her standing on the drenched docks of Ecruteak's eastern end, facing his small black automobile. He was elsewhere along the row of garages, distracted. She reached out and pressed a palm against the driver's window. Her hand dropped, the handprint glowed faintly, and the sheet of glass was neatly detached. She slipped Le roi Midas onto the passenger's seat along with the two torn-out scraps from the sheet of paper with flight-related information. Then, before retreating into the sleek silver Corvette, she took hold of his steering wheel and sundered it from the automobile with the same motion.
These were the same sheet of glass and steering wheel which now appeared in her hands, and which she set on the marble coffee table beside the folding camera. Then she said in a low voice, "Another point to you."
And this scene had brought another recollection to Renard. "Let me attempt to score one additional point," he said. "When I arrived here I saw no Corvette in your garage. I took this to indicate you were not home. I should have known I was incorrect, non? For the same bicycle which I spied in your garage was the one you'd stored in the backseat while driving around earlier, was it not? And does this not mean your final errand today was to deposit the Corvette in storage for the length of time you'd be abroad, and you brought the bicycle along for easy and inexpensive transportation home?"
At first Channery didn't speak. She instead busied herself with the demanding task of scratching the dog Micmac behind the ears. He yawned, once again revealing that gruesome gueule, but afterward fixed the detective with another affable and unconcerned look. "Aw, Jesus, Rules," Channery said at length. "You've really got it all figured out, huh."
"Not quite all of it. Putting aside for one moment the matter of Le roi Midas' current whereabouts, and remaining for one final beat upon the subject of your returning overseas this evening, I also find myself fairly curious as to what you intend to do with the house itself. Will you simply leave it here, abandoned, once you have extracted all your possessions thence?"
"Why? Thinking of movin' in?" Channery grinned wryly. "Nope, nothing doing, sorry Rules. I've already arranged things with the Giarrettieras. They're selling the house for me within the week. Good thing about the Don is he doesn't ask too many questions."
What was I saying? Oh yes. Miss Keigler also does business, or at least has done business, with the Giarrettiera family...
"Yes, Madame Mangjeol told me," said Renard. "I mean, the fact you had professional ties of some kind to the organization. Her knowledge about you extended that far, at any rate."
"Hmm? Oh, yeah, well." Channery appeared to think about it for a moment while rubbing Micmac's chin, then shook her head. "No, yeah, guess I don't really care if Mangjeol knows that. I run deliveries for 'em. They took a liking to me once they figured out I can get stuff right from point A to point B without the stuff actually having to be... you know, en route." She pronounced the en as if sounding out the letter N but Renard did not protest. "I don't think what went on at the hotel changed my standing with 'em. The Don knows he owes me a favor."
Channery regarded him appraisingly. "You ever met the Don?"
"Well, ah..." Renard shifted his feet and leaned on one elbow of the chair. "I don't mean him any disrespect, but no, I suspect I could rest easy the balance of my life without ever meeting Don Giarrettiera..."
Channery smiled cheerily. "Good! Then do yourself a favor and don't tell the cops where I live." The golf club was back in her hand. "Cause if it turns out the police get their hands on my property, the Don's gonna be as pissed as I am." She propped the golf club up vertically while continuing to pet Micmac with the other hand. "And I can't -- you know, I can't guarantee you'll meet him personal... But I'm pretty sure you oughta be able to expect a couple of copper jackets shipped to your skull with all his fondest."
Tweak mustache in consternation, to buy a moment of thinking time.
He tweaked his moustache in the manner of one who had felt the haleine froide of sinister consequences eroding one's resolve to pursue one's originally intended course of action.
"C'mon Rules. Oh. Come on. Look at you." Channery rested the golf club against her chair and leaned foward with empty hands. "Look at your face okay I'm sorry Rules. I'm not actually trying to be a bitch to you, is the -- is the thing. I'm trying to be the opposite of that. You're in danger here potentially. I want to steer you away from the danger. Cause I honestly don't think you're a horrible person. So this is my advice to you. Don't tell the cops where I live. That's big."
Something in the way she looked at him then informed the detective that she meant it. But: "What can I tell them then?" Renard asked, aware even himself of how pouty the question sounded.
Channery's lips pulled back in thought. "You can tell 'em I sold it," she said after a moment.
"Yeah. Second to last thing on the to-do list this afternoon," she went on. "Right before dropping off the Corvette. Meet up with the greedy dumbasses who wanted to buy the painting off me. Unzipped the cover, took a good long look at the brushwork or whatever, zipped up the cover, paid, hoisted the painting into their car and took off. Oh and talked a lot. Throughout that whole little sequence."
"So that's... they are now the ones who possess Le roi Midas?" Renard inquired with some disappointment, but the devious light in Channery's eyes was already beginning to inform him otherwise.
"Rules," she said. "Are we smart friends, or what are we exactly?"
Renard's eyebrows rose.
"Put it this way," explained Channery. "I had until their car rounded the corner to figure out whether I wanted to do the honorable thing or the clever thing. And I thought what the eff, I wasn't taking the high road in the first place..."
She stood up and spread her arms wide with a smile.
Le roi Midas materialized before her, her hands gripping opposite sides of the frame.
It was oriented to face Renard. There again he saw the bedraggled King Midas on the bank of the river, immersing his knobby hands in the water. There again the branches of bright green that overhung his form, some of the shrubbery gilded, perhaps where he had stumbled on his approach. There again the concentric ripples of gold across the sand from where his fingertips had touched the bottom, and there again too Midas' expression of wonder and disbelief and extase.
"I wonder if they've unzipped the cover again yet," said Channery.
Post by Beelzebibble on Jul 24, 2010 16:44:25 GMT -5
Before he had even quite noticed what he was doing Renard's hands were gently reaching out for the painting.
"Whoa-ho! Whoa! Easy there, beylerbey! Let's take this really, really easy." Channery drew back, pulling Le roi Midas back against her chest. "Sheesh, what'd you think, I'm giving it to you? I just brought it out to show off." She turned the painting around and regarded it fondly. Renard inspected the back of the frame for imprevus clues but saw nothing of interest. Channery looked Le roi Midas over, taking in every detail. "Really is some great brushwork. I think."
The Caucasian shepherd Micmac, who had evidently not been ready to cease being petted at the time that Channery had ceased petting him, trotted around her to Renard and sat beside him as expectantly as if the dog had not ten minutes earlier been wordlessly threatening to rend his spine. Renard hesitated for a moment before reaching out and patting the brute on the head again. Micmac closed his eyes and tilted his head back. His fourrure epaise was as warm and fleecy as a sheep's.
Suggest that you could take the painting off her hands, now that she's already sold it. That way, if anybody comes calling for it, she can point out the museum regained it somehow.
To help sweeten the deal, promise you'll (try to) have Yoon spread a smokescreen for her, spreading some information about the government hiring some native Power to reclaim the painting.
"But you're not..." Renard began. "I mean to say... You're not keeping the Boullogne, are you?"
"Oh no," said Channery, "nope -- Like if you mean am I mounting it on my wall then no. No way! I mean I like it but come on, where am I gonna put it, the ballroom? I don't have a ballroom," she immediately clarified at the sight of Renard about to ask. "Not back home either."
"Then surely..." Renard struggled for the most tactful way to phrase this. "Surely I could take the painting off of your hands, now that you've already sold it. That way, if anybody comes--"
"Now okay wait can I stop you there?" Channery muscled him out of finishing his sentence. "Can I just -- See here's the thing. 'Already sold it', that's kind of... That doesn't mean an awful lot." She stood Le roi Midas against the cabinet. "That's like saying I'm never breaking into the cookie jar again 'cause I already got away with it once."
"You don't mean..."
"Lotta sleazy art dealers back where I come from, Rules," she said. She sat back down on her chair. Micmac licked Renard's hand before returning to her side. "I am milking the Roy Myedaws for all it's worth."
Renard sputtered, "Mais -- But that's--"
Channery turned her head aside slightly, inviting Renard to respond in the affirmative, but he could see the collet from here and decided not to furnish her with an opportunity to assert how little she valued fair play. A different observation occurred to him. "It is not especially safe," he muttered. "Swindling every black market operative you can arrange a deal with? You do not think they'll attempt to hunt you down?"
She paused and drew in a breath before responding, "...So what? They won't find me. What -- you think I gave my address and phone number to the dipshits I met with today? You think the name I gave was real? I didn't even use 'Nicole Hatfield' for that one." She shook her head. "They're not gonna find me. None of 'em are."
"Mademoiselle, I found you."
She rounded on him.
"Yeah. You did," she snapped. "And I'd have smashed you into a bloody pulp by now if I couldn't've told in two seconds what a puny little wuss you are."
His eyes widened and he drew back. His lips twitched downward.
"Excusez-moi, miss," he said eventually. "I did not realize it was impermissible that I should express concern for your well-being."
She was glowering at the floor. Her cheeks were red. "Just saying, I can take care of myself," she mumbled.
Propose a compromise with Channery! Ask if you may return it to the museum for the reward where she can then re-steal it from the comfort of wherever she's fleeing to. Give her the VDV so that she can refresh her memory should need be.
An idea occurred to him and he almost spoke up but he dismissed it with relative vitesse. Renard Rouletabille was against all authorly precedent a legitimately virtuous character and wasn't solely driven by financial desires in this situation; his honest wish was not only to collect the reward but to see the burgled Boullogne reinstated in its rightful place for good. Also the DVD -- excuse me, the VDV had already been broken in half and dropped into the little living room dustbin by you know who.
Meet Channery's gaze. Point out that if any of the Powers that had been running rampant as of (Ishkabibble) late had found her instead of yourself, she'd have been cut into grisly pieces and left on display for when the police got there.
Renard met Channery's gaze and pointed this out in a surpassingly sage and vertigineux manner.
She promptly broke eye contact. "Right," she muttered. "Sure. 'Cause I'm an idiot. Obviously. Love screwing around with psycho Powers. Do it all the time. Eating paint chips, pissin' off blood-smeared nutcases, that's Tuesday afternoon for me."
Once it occurred to Renard how strange was the idea of designating a particular time and day of the week for these activities he realized that she was employing sarcasm. He was rather proud of himself for having caught it this time without the necessity of clarification on her part. "Mlle. Keigler," he said grandly and speaking more truth than he realized, "it is possible anyone could turn out to be a Power."
She glared at the floor expectantly.
"So -- what? Is this... Is this your cue?" she said after a moment. "Like, are you gonna start flying around now or -- I don't know, light your hands on fire or something?"
Bluff that you have the power to transmute unliving matter. If needed, use your pipe as proof. Threaten the painting unless she willingly relinquishes it.
Renard patted his pockets for the pipe but could not find it anywhere. He must have misplaced it. Quelle etrange. He had been about to pull off a brilliant maneuver wherein he would have convinced Channery that he had alchemical powers over all inanimate material. "No, never mind," he concluded. Of course if she had called his fecal matter he would not have been able to effect any change upon the Boullogne but much more distressing to Renard at the moment was the question of where his pipe had gone. He looked around. He was sure he had had it quite recently.
"But see Rules if anyone could be a Power, and any Power could be crazy... then you and I could get killed just walkin' down the street," Channery reasoned. This line of logic had put new energy into her words and she sat up, no longer red in the face. "Right? So what's the point saying anything's not safe? Whyn't you just let me do what I want? Fact, in case you didn't notice, it's not me blowin' up hotels or knocking down apartment buildings. What's so bad about me compared to them?"
"Merely that you could be using your power to do good," Renard insisted.
Appeal to her sense of fairness potential gain. Suggest teaming up with the police and running some sort of catch-and-release program to snag purchasers of stolen art, then returning the paintings (naturally keeping the money the collectors paid her as fees for her services) No need to milk a single one, when all the paintings in the world open up as potential (legal!) sales.
"C'est vrai!" Renard exclaimed, leaning forward in his seat and gesticulating persuasively. "Why not? You have already proven yourself quite adept at, ah... bamboozling craignos art dealers. Surely the police would be interested in such a talent?"
Channery frowned. "What do you mean?"
Renard was about to clarify when he realized that he did not precisely know the English term for the procedure he wished to suggest. "It's called an operation of some kind," he managed. "A... let me see. A prickle operation? A tingle operation?"
"Ohh. A sting operation."
"Right -- yes, exactly! If you were to ally yourself with the police, you might sell artwork to these reprehensible criminals, retract the goods safely before the purchasers 'rounded the corner' as you say, and then arrange for their prompt arrest!"
Channery raised her eyebrows.
"You could be a hero, Mlle. Keigler."
Grasping: "And the profit would be considerable."
"Yeah, that's an okay idea..." Channery stretched out her arms. "Course, back home I'm pretty sure it's illegal for police to work with Powers. Federal law. Picture a room full of Williamses and then pretend that's the gov..." She trailed off, her eyes wide. The color had risen slightly in her cheeks again. She gave the impression of having said something she shouldn't have. If the situation had been more vaudevillesque she might have clapped a hand over her mouth.
Renard saw it. He pounced.
"Aha!" he cried. "Your country of origin prohibits the acceptance of Power aid by law enforcement, does it? How short the list becomes! I believe your home must therefore lie in... alors... Madagascar, Vanuatu, Pondicherry, Haiti, Canada, Rwanda, Guernsey, Seychelles, Luxembourg, or Burkina Faso!"
Counting off this ten-point list had exhausted all of his available fingers, leaving both hands splayed forward a trifle foolishly. Renard relaxed and frowned, studying Channery's features with care.
"Let me see," he said after a moment. "You don't look Seychellois."
"My folks were a Pacific Islander and a Slav," she deadpanned.
"Ah!" he said.
She stared at him briefly as if expecting him to say something else, but evidently gave up quite soon. "Well now," she said. She stood up. "This's been a great little chat, Rules. I mean it! An eye-opener. But I really got to be heading to the airport soon so would you mind? Micmac, c'mon..."
Renard managed to weave around Micmac's tremendous muzzle and stand up. "Mlle. Keigler!" he cried. "I beseech you! You are not a heartless malfaiteur. You know full well this is the wrong thing to do. Please -- I don't wish to capture you -- only allow me to return the Boullogne to its rightful place!"
... I need the money to pay back Yoon, and if I don't give her the money soon then she will set a bounty on my head.
“But Mlle. Keigler…” Renard protested hoarsely. As this point he was sinking where he stood. “I am in dire need of the reward money… My debt to Madame Mangjeol is severe… She has made her position on this matter quite clear… If I cannot repay her in due time, she shall send les chasseurs des tetes after me…!”
Channery’s eyebrows rose. “No shit. Really?” Then she stepped in very close to Renard. He stooped even further. “Is she really going to…? Well you’re in a little bit of a pickle then, aren’t you, Rouletabille? Because – okay, let’s hash this page-turner out – chapter one – you’re not a terrible guy – but chapter two – you broke into my house!” She yelled this last sentence full into Renard’s face and he almost fell onto his knees. “What d’you want me to – feel sorry for you? Fuck that.” Micmac whined slightly. She ignored him. “So you got strung up in that bitch’s web. Now that is a real bummer, Rules. A drag for the ages. But check this out. That’s your fault, it is not my problem, and – and what the fuck how dare you try to play the pity card on me when you broke into my house?”
He was not looking up at her by the time she finished this sortie, for which reason she disengaged from her uncomfortably close stance, whipped around, and picked up the Boullogne.
Look towards the window. Realize you don't have good angle to see out a window. Sigh forlornly.
At length he said very quietly, “I believe I’m not going to apologize for that one.”
“Don’t,” she said at once. The color had risen once more in her cheeks. “Don’t apologize.” She hoisted the Boullogne over the marble coffee table. “Just don’t beg either, okay? Jesus…”
Micmac nudged Renard’s hand and he petted the brute softly. “May I beseech you, then?”
Channery paused by the doorway to give a dismissive huff. “’S difference?”
He thought about it. “To be frank I don’t know,” he confessed. “Your language permits so many ways of saying the same thing… But perhaps, for the purposes of this entretien, we might rule that the act of beseeching represents an appeal not to pity, but to one’s better nature.”
“Oh that. Okay, fine. Beseech me. Sirrah.” It should not require clarification that her face was very slightly less dour at this turn.
(Possibly appeal to her sensibilities and mention how the world's being deprived of such a great work while the thief goes unpunished.)
“Mademoiselle, you have stolen a painting.”
Channery snapped her fingers and pointed at him with a sage expression.
Renard had thought this would be a good start but already he sensed he was losing his footing. “Non non,” he went on, “I mean to say, of all the expensive items you could have burgled for resale, you elected to steal a painting.”
Channery nodded wisely and gave him a slow thumbs-up.
“But a painting is a work of art!”
“Why yes! It sure is. By definition.”
“Non non!” Renard sputtered. “I don’t mean in such a – such a conret sense. I mean on a grander, more, ah, philosophical level. A painting is a contribution to the sphere of art, of creativity. A painting may spark ideas the creator did not intend. A painting is… oh, what do you say… something… greater than…?”
“Sum of its parts,” she offered dully.
“C’est ca! Thank you.” Renard had regained his posture. He took a confident step toward Channery and the painting. “You see now – what influence may such a painting hold if it is not shared with the world? If it is only cocooned day to day within a black leather cover, changing hands from one avare dealer to the next? Think of the bright-eyed child in the Ecruteak Gallery of Art whom Le roi Midas, and no other painting, might inspire to take up a career as an artist! Think of the impressionable student who might be stirred by Le roi Midas and none other to become a chronicler of Greek mythology, and of classical history as a whole!”
Channery snorted. “How ‘bout the budding redneck who this thing inspires to buy a shitload of gold?”
“Oui!” Renard cried.
She tutted and reached down a hand to scratch Micmac’s chin. The other hand tapped the frame of the Boullogne, where King Midas still knelt heureux and awestruck on the gold-tinged riverbank.
... (take moment to tweak mustache for optimum effect)
“Mlle. Keigler, in the world there are so many valuable objects to steal,” Renard insisted. “Objects which you could sell and resell for as much as or more than this painting. Yet mundane objects, which harbor no muse! A clock, a chandelier, a precious jewel… a computer…” He tweaked his moustache not so much for optimum effect as to spar for time while he tried to add to the list, but these examples were enough to be going on with. “In the theft of any of these objects, you steal from the body of mankind but not from its mind, for they offer humanity nothing a thousand others of their ilk could not replicate. But in burgling works of art, mademoiselle, you plunder from the vault of human intellect itself. Such wrongdoing cannot be set right until Le roi Midas is hanging once again in a public gallery where all people may draw inspiration from it. And that is why I cannot depart this house without that same painting under my arm!”
He finished this tirade with an index finger a bit absurdly jutting out into the air, which he retracted feebly. Channery dans l’intervalie was quite still. Then she opened her mouth as if to speak. Then she closed it again.
“Shut up, I’m thinking,” she said. One hand rose to her chin but then caught her forehead as her head slumped.
“God damn it,” she added.
Renard shifted his weight awkwardly. The dog Micmac looked from one of them to the other. Outside it was quiet. The rain had ceased spattering against the window.
Propose the return anyway. Tell the curator to put it in a different spot of the museum but don't tell Channery your intent. Keep a pokerface, bub.
“You realize,” said Channery, giving Renard a dark look through her fingers, “even if I give this back to you, I could welsh anytime, right? I mean I could change my mind and steal the painting back whenever I felt like it. And me bein’ overseas and all, I really don’t think you could find me again.”
“Aha!” Renard declared. “But if I instruct Mr. Wood the curator to rearrange the gallery and hang the Boullogne elsewhere, your power will fail since you will no longer be able to fiablement visualize its location!”
“Aha!” she shot back. “But if I get a friend to go take a snapshot of the painting and send it to me, I can steal it back all the same!”
Renard started to formulate his next “Aha!”, realized he had no retort, and settled into a glum frown.
“I’m kidding,” Channery said. She drew away and took another look at the painting. She ran a hand through her hair. Her lips pulled back in a flat smile which her eyes did not top appropriately. “Don’t have that many friends around here anyway.”
He took another tentative step forward.
“Mlle. Keigler… aren’t we friends? Smart friends?”
The flat smile assumed a bit more shape. “I guess so, Rules. I guess we’ve been movin’ in that direction,” she said.
She grasped the painting on both sides of the frame, held it up, and offered it to Renard.
To help sweeten the deal, promise you'll (try to) have Yoon spread a smokescreen for her, spreading some information about the government hiring some native Power to reclaim the painting.
For a moment after he accepted Le roi Midas Renard could not speak.
Then he managed “Merci. Merci beaucoup, mademoiselle. You’ve done the right thing. You—”
“Stop it I’m gonna change my mind in two seconds if you keep that up,” she advised. For the third and final time that day her cheeks had grown red.
“But you have done the right thing,” Renard protested, “and I wish to see to it you’re safe in your change of heart. Perhaps I can persuade Madame Mangjeol to circulate false information about who stole the Boullogne, and cast une voile over your departure. They would never suspect you…”
Channery waved the suggestion away. “Mangjeol doesn’t like spreading lies. Bad long-term business. You got to pay her like seven times more to mislead someone else than to tell you the truth. C’mon, you’ve dealt with that broad too, you know what’s up.” After a beat, she added, “But I do appreciate the thought, Rules, I mean it.”
“If you say so,” Renard replied. He certainly did not need to be further in debt to Madame Mangjeol. He held up the painting for another look.
“Well,” Channery said briskly, “I got to hit the road about now. Not missin’ my redeye just to be a good person or whatever. Out you go, Rules.”
Renard pointed at his coat which was still lying on the marble coffee table next to the lockpick and the antique folding camera. “May I have that back, please?” he asked.
“Oh duh,” she said. She picked up the coat in the normal human way and handed it to him. He gratefully slipped it back upon his person, welcoming the heaviness and bulkiness without which he had felt quite at sea for the better part of this tete-a-tete. “I’m keeping the camera and the lockpick though. Hope you’re cool with that.”
Renard took one more long look at the antique folding camera, his companion of so many years, but then smiled and nodded. “Treat the camera well,” he said to her. “May it last long enough to bring you as much jouissance as it did to me.”
“I would also not mind being able to have a smoke on the way back into the city,” he put forth. “If I could just…”
“Shit! Nice catch,” said Channery as she fetched the pipe off one of the bookshelves. She stuffed it into his hand. “Here, take it. I don’t want your gross ol’ pipe, jeez!”
Renard chuckled and tucked the pipe safely back into the inner pocket of his coat. In Channery’s hand, meanwhile, the blue backpack materialized once again. She unzippped the main compartment and stuffed the photographs from Albarello back in at the top. Then she slung the backpack over her shoulders. In another second a long green leash dangled from her hands. “C’mon, Micmac,” she said. She hooked the leash onto Micmac’s collar, but the beast hastened over to Renard and licked his hands vigorously, covering them with spittle.
Ask if you can take care of doggy while she's gone. You're old and lonely and destitute.
“Likes you, does he,” Channery observed. Micmac wagged his enormous tail. “You know I don’t really know how he’ll deal with spending a whole night on board a plane.”
“You cannot leave him here overnight and retrieve him when you arrive?” Renard asked while giving Micmac a stout scratching behind the ears.
“No go.” Channery held up her hands. “Doesn’t work on living things. Besides, look at the size of that monster. You know I can’t fetch stuff that’s too big.” She reached down to stroke Micmac’s back. “He’s never been out of the Archipelago. Guess I’m worried the flight’ll mess him up.”
Renard hesitated before suggesting, “You know, mademoiselle, I would be willing to host Micmac for the duration of your stay abroad if this might apaiser one of your worries…”
Although she clearly had the option of scoffing at this idea, Channery surprisingly did not.
She stared at Renard and Micmac for a moment before inquiring, “Ever owned a dog, Rules?”
“Yes actually, I was in possession of a French bulldog for a number of years,” said Renard, remembering the dear departed Passepartout (old age).
Channery frowned. “Beginner level,” she said eventually, “but good enough I guess. What do you think, Micmac? Wanna spend some time with the clumsy French guy?” Micmac responded by panting loudly and wetly with what appeared to be a wide grin. “Okay. You’re on. One less thing for me to worry about.” The next items to appear in her hands were a pencil and a notebook, full-sized rather than pocket-sized like Renard’s. The paper was yellow. “Gimme your number,” she said, “and I’ll call you tomorrow afternoon, tell you what you need to get for him.”
Renard obediently wrote his number upon the top page and handed it back to her before thinking to mention that his phone was out of service.
“Oh Christ, Rules, really?” The notepad and pencil disappeared from his grasp. She tore the top page off, placed it in her backpack, and then started writing herself. “Fix that okay? And then call me and we’ll get you up to speed. Here. For now.” She tore the next page off and gave it to him. In addition to a phone number, the sheet also included brief counsel on diet and other daily habits.
“Thank you,” he said plainly.
“Forget it,” she said. “Helping me really. What’s that, Micmac? You don’t wanna go on a scary plane and tremble and shake and throw up all night? I didn’t think so.” She knelt down and hugged the dog. He rested his chin on her shoulder and applied a liberal amount of spittle to that surface as well. She stood up. “Treat him well, all right?” she told Renard. “May he last long enough to bring you as much whatever the hell you said.”
“Oh. And.” Channery paused. Then something else appeared in her hand. It was a wad of bills. She dropped them into his hand without comment. However then before he could get more than a syllable out she quietly cut him off. “Shut up okay. I’m not being generous. ’S for the window and the steering wheel. That was a dick move, you shouldn’t have to pay for it. Besides, you're gonna need a lot of chow for garbage disposal over there.”
Renard understood and he squirrelled away the wad of bills without even incurring the discourtesy of counting them then and there, but he guessed the amount to be somewhere in the high hundreds. His fingers felt almost electrified. It had been a very long time since he had handled this much money at once. He hoped Channery preferred he express his gratitude en le non-dit.
Channery exited the living room into the hallway and opened the front door. “Oh good,” she said, “it stopped raining.” Indeed, though the clouds had not yet cleared, the rain had passed. The evening was very warm and very humid. Renard stepped out of the house after her, carrying the painting under one arm and taking Micmac’s leash by the other hand. He and the dog stepped off the front porch to allow her to lock the door, after which she opened the garage door and went inside. Renard took a deep breath. The garden was full of fraises scents. Channery wheeled out the bicycle, slammed the garage door and locked it as well. “All set,” she declared. “You walking, Rules?”
“I suppose so.”
“Good. You could use the exercise,” she said.
She offered a hand. Renard rather jerkily stuck out his hand while still pressing the portrait against his hip with that elbow. She shook it.
“Take care of yourself, Rules.”
“And you, Mlle. Keigler,” Renard replied. “I am very sorry for breaking into your house. I shall not replace the lockpick. My days of such snooping are past.”
“Well good. Man,” she said. “No, I’m joking. I forgive you. And I’m sorry about… well, robbin’ the vault of human knowledge or whatever – but also about… You know. Losing my temper. Didn’t need to shout at you.”
Suggest going after more innocuous (and less innocent) targets, because you know that whenever a case turns up in the paper, you'll be there to try and solve it.
The backpack swung heavily as she got onto the bicycle. “How long are you going to be abroad?” he asked.
“About a year, probably,” said Channery. “Gonna give this time to blow over, plus I have some stuff to take care of over there. After that I’m taking back Micmac so he better be in good shape Rules.”
Renard chuckled. “I shall keep it in mind. And for your part, mademoiselle, let me advise you upon your return to avoid such high-profile thefts. I never miss a day of news… and the next time I hear about such banditismes, rest assured I shall know whom to seek out.”
“I’m real scared, Renard.”
Then she kicked off, rattled down the driveway, and sped away along the puddle-strewn sidewalk, backpack swaying noisily, around the corner and out of sight.
Renard stood at the top of the driveway for another one and a half or one and three-quarters minutes, taking in the dampened neighborhood under the darkened sky. Micmac whined gently. “Off we go, then,” Renard muttered. He started down the driveway. Micmac followed behind for only a few paces before excitedly plowing ahead. Renard almost lost his balance and dropped the painting as he stumbled down to the bottom of the driveway in tow of the massive dog. “Steady now, Micmac,” he said. When they were on level ground again the brute slowed. Yet he still trotted a bit ahead of Renard as they wandered out of the neighborhood in search of the nearest phone booth.
A dark gray cat scampered out of a bush and Micmac surged forward. Renard seized the leash with both hands and tried to hold on while the Boullogne slipped perilleuxment down his side. He was certain the enormous dog would set to running in a second, at which point Renard would fly along comically behind him like a kite and Le roi Midas would be left in a puddle. But as soon as Micmac detected resistance from Renard's end, he stopped in his tracks, one paw lifted in the act of stepping over the curb onto the lawn where the cat had fled, and looked back at the detective. Then the Caucasian shepherd returned to the lamp-lit street and trotted on as if there wasn't a cat in the world. Renard silently praised Mlle. Keigler's talent as an animal trainer while propping the painting back up under his arm.
On the outskirts of the neighborhood it was Renard and Micmac's good fortune to happen upon a pay phone. The spare change the Turkish brothers had left him funded the conversation he was about to have.
Place a call to Williams. Say that you've done all the hunting for him, and the painting has been secured.
So that was the second location he called. There followed a brief conversation with a lower officer which we will be able to skip over without harming the narrative. You'll notice during the Channery scene it does in fact say that when Renard introduced himself he did so "for the final time that day, except possibly when he would call the Ecruteak police department later although that is a brief conversation which we will be able to skip over without harming the narrative." Suffice it to say that shortly thereafter a police car arrived with the lights off to transport the detective, the dog and the painting back to the station.
* * *
Renard sat in a stark wooden chair, one of two sitting in front of the unoccupied desk. Le roi Midas had been placed in the other chair. Micmac was sprawled upon the black carpet near the door, staring contentedly at nothing. The walls and ceiling were white and very sparsely decorated. A black bookcase, stuffed with notebooks, plastic binders, videocasettes and VDVs, stood perpendicular to the chaotically papered desk -- which was, in fact, untidy enough to look more at home in Renard's apartment than Channery's house. Only one corner of the desk resisted the marmalade of documents and envelopes, and that was merely to accomodate a single framed picture angled away from Renard and toward the desk's absent occupant.
Renard could not help himself. He'd already turned one picture around today to have a glimpse at it. The thing was starting to become a habit. He rotated the picture to face him. Depicted were two very young colored girls, the older no more than six and wearing a sunny yellow dress, the younger perhaps four and bedecked in pink. They were sitting hand-in-hand on a stone bench beside a lake; something which might have been a tackle box poked in by the older girl's feet. Both had fixed the photographer with gap-toothed, round-cheeked grins.
The doorknob turned. Micmac shot to his feet. The door opened and Commissioner Perry Williams started in. "I hear you -- Oh my god," he said. This hasty revision of his introductory comment was designed to take into account the fact that Micmac, having apparently sensed that he'd finally come face-to-face with a human being of sufficient strength and girth to weather a full-on abordage, had reared up onto his hind legs and planted those two beefy paws upon his shoulders. The Commissioner staggered back a couple of steps but otherwise bore the attack admirably. He spluttered in indignation as the dog leaned his muzzle in for an eager lick.
"Get down!" he spat out. Micmac promptly dropped back down onto the floor. "Is this your dog, Rouletabille?" Williams demanded.
Renard surprised himself. "Ah... oui," he admitted.
"I don't host animals in here."
"Excuse me! I had no idea..."
The Commissioner might have pressed the matter further if Micmac had not pressed his snout into the man's hand. The Commissioner's brow softened as he scratched Micmac's thick coat of fur. "Naw, forget it," he said. He wiped his face with his other sleeve. "God. I thought at first he was a grizzly." He looked back at Renard, and then at the desk.
"Messing up my possessions. Noted, Rouletabille."
After a moment's misunderstanding, Renard realized he'd left the picture of the two little girls facing him. His eyes widened and he hastened to reparer the mistake but the Commissioner's sturdy fingers plucked the frame from his own. "I'll get it," said Williams unnecessarily. He sat down at his desk, still holding the picture, and set a grim glare upon Renard. "And I truly hope that's the only thing in this office you touched, Rouletabille. I'll be consulting the cameras to investigate that."
Touch things, and be reminded that you shouldn't touch things by Williams.
"Don't bother," he added as Renard glanced around, "they're hidden."
"I touched nothing else," the detective promised with haste.
The Commissioner nodded heavily and looked down at the framed photograph. "Yeah, you wouldn't," he said.
"Are they your daughters?"
Williams hesitated, but then held up the picture. "Courtney--" (he pointed at the older girl in yellow) "--and Alicia." He pointed at the younger girl in pink. The grim glare had had the courtoisie not to persist. Williams regarded the picture temperately. "My babies," he added after a moment, again not quite out of necessity.
"How old are they now?" asked Renard.
"It's a pretty recent shot," the other man said, and left it at that. Renard smiled.
"Well, I think they are quite beautiful children, Commissioner."
Williams smirked wearily and looked up. "I appreciate that." He set the picture back down on the desk. It did not escape Renard that he angled it a bit more openly than it had been before, thereby not prohibiting the detective from seeing the girls. "They both take after Monica, course. Lucky for them. Wouldn't've minded having a son who looked like me, but no little girl deserves a mug like this."
Renard laughed a bit, noncommittally, not wishing to offensively agree with the self-deprecating comment but also aware that a reply of "En fait, Commissioner, I find you quite handsome" would not be much of a step up.
The other man looked at his watch. "And, Rouletabille," he went on, "I'm hoping not to get home so late I can't read them a bedtime story. So maybe we ought to try and make this quick, huh?"
Renard sat back and rather timidly motioned toward Le roi Midas, which he had not observed the Commissioner to lay direct eyes upon since his entrance.
"...There it is," he said without much fanfare.
"I see it," said Williams, still looking at Renard. "I'm very grateful for your service, Rouletabille. We've already contacted the curator at his residence. We'll deliver the painting to the gallery tomorrow and arrange for your reward. They'll invite you over for a photo shoot, probably. You'll get interviewed, be in the papers. The whole works."
"Ah!" Renard responded brightly. He could not think of very much else to say. It seemed so easy from here on out. "Fantastique!" He started to get up. "So -- so is that it, then, Commissioner? Am I free to go for now?"
Williams raised a hand, palm downturned.
"Slow up there, sir," he said. "I didn't tell you to make this quick just so I could talk at you for a minute and then send you on your way. You need to give me some answers." He pulled his chair in and leaned forward, counting off fingers. "Such as. Where'd you find it? How'd you know where to look? Who stole it? Where are they now? And how in the hell did they get away with the thing in the first place?"
"Oh! Well..." he started. His voice gave out. He took a breath and pondered.
The other man, despite his admonishment, was now himself standing up out of his seat. His profile was quite imposing under the flourescent light overhead. "Come on, Rouletabille," he said in a low voice. "It was a Power, wasn't it? More than one? How many? Tell me. I need details. We're gonna turn this city inside-out. We need to send their kind a message: They can't fuck with us like that." He strode around the desk and patted Micmac on the head again. His expression however was not as relaxed as before. "If one of 'em screws me over, I'm gonna take down three of 'em. If three of 'em screw me over, I'm gonna take down twenty of 'em. It's the only way, Rouletabille. You can't make a single Power pay for his crimes. All you can do is discipline the group. Make any infraction a betrayal against their whole kind. There's no other way to keep them at peace, Rouletabille. Because those assholes are not like you and me."
He was rubbing Micmac's fur quite roughly at this point and a lesser dog would have yipped with discomfort but actually Micmac seemed to enjoy it. Renard, for his part, had recoiled with such force he might have dented the stark wooden chair.
"So tell me, Rouletabille," the Commissioner said slowly. "What happened?"
Calculate the time it would take to tell your story (true or otherwise) and then exit the conversation, room and building before anyone could stop you. If you get a chance to actually exit under these conditions, congratulate/be disappointed with yourself if you succeed/fail to calculate correctly.
Consider this idea laughable. Do not do it. Just talk.
Okay, you’re the boss: he didn’t do that. Would’ve been cool though.
Renard finalement ceased blustering and settled down. He had hit upon a plan to spar for time. “I would like some tea, please,” he announced. “It has been a long day and I find myself quite thirsty. Could this be arranged?”
One of the Commissioner’s eyebrows rose a bit. “We have a coffee machine.”
The Commissioner grunted, sat again in his chair, and picked up the telephone resting upon a pile of documents. “It’s Williams,” he told the device after punching several buttons. “Do we have any tea in the kitchen? I don’t know. I don’t care, whatever’s there. Yes, just microwave it. Bring it to my office please. Thank you.” He set the telephone back down and gave Renard a weary look. “Coming right up,” he said.
“Thank you very much,” said the detective.
“Now. Let’s hear the story, all right? How’d you find the painting?”
Renard had taken the duration of the telephone call to consider his facultes. His first instinct had been not to tell the Commissioner about Channery Keigler for fear of inciting the Giarrettiera organization against himself. No, perhaps that had not been so. Perhaps his very first thought had been that he didn’t wish to tell Williams about mademoiselle Keigler because Renard had discovered after all that he was fond of the young woman and wished her no harm. Self-evidently if this had been Renard’s first thought he would have dismissed it as sentimental and sought a more rational argument. Well he had one, in the form of the Giarrettieras. Good: he would not tell the Commissioner about Channery Keigler.
Yet ought he to tell Williams that a Power was responsible at all? Renard looked into the slightly parchemine face of the man sitting across from him. The Commissioner was only waiting for him to say the word in order to begin a citywide… what was it called… “crackledown” upon the Power community. Should Williams be encouraged in his campaign, innocents who’d never run afoul of the law would be persecuted for nothing more than the nature of their abilities. Was it moral to spur the Commissioner on in this way?
Had he received a suggestion to do so, Renard most assuredly would have tweaked his moustache in the manner of one uncertain whether it was preferable to tell a lie for the benefit of an only-variously-deserving population or to tell the truth even despite its likely futility in capturing the real culprit.
One, further, uncertain which if either of the two options drew closer upon the point of justice.
However when Commissioner Williams renewed his question Renard made his decision.
Say you have no idea on who it was that stole the painting. You saw a car near the museum that had a large package in the back, tailed it, and stole the painting when you found it in a garage. If pressed for plates, say they didn't have any, or that they were somehow obscured.
“I found it by the docks,” he said.
Williams’ eyes narrowed.
“In a storage facility,” Renard explained, “by the docks.”
“And what was it doing there?”
“Possibly, Commissioner, awaiting sale to whatever greedy arsouilles had arranged to purchase it…”
“Well how did you know to look for it there?” the other man demanded.
“Ah!” Renard scratched his nose. Here was a trickier question. “Well. You see, Commissioner, when I met you earlier today at the scene of the crime I took careful note of the exact dimensions of Le roi Midas judging from the patterns of dust around the space where it had hung. Then, not long after my second conversation with you upon the steps of the Gallery, I was surpassed on the road by an automobile containing a black paquet which I, with my eyes to match those of any bird of prey, appraised as equal to the length and width of the painting. I subtly tailed the automobile to the docks, where its occupant hauled the black leather parcel into a garage.” He paused for a moment against his will, sure that Williams would have called his excrement comparable to bovine fecal matter by now, but was uninterrupted. “Lacking any firearms with which to apprehend the criminal, I was forced to follow using only stealth, and by the time I reached the Boullogne, its porter had vanished.”
“But what did the man look like?” the Commissioner half-shouted.
Renard pursed his lips in thought. It had not occurred to him to invert Mlle. Keigler’s gender for this exercise. Yet that was a strikingly good idea. “He was wearing a baseball cap and a large backpack,” he said, “and so I was unable to get a proper glimpse of him. I only really saw him from behind and at a distance, you understand.”
“Then what did the car look like,” Williams groaned.
“Ah! It was a bright green… A bright green…” Renard’s knowledge of automobile brands failed him. He fell back on the only surefire answer. “A bright green ‘Vette.”
“A what? Oh, a Corvette.” Commissioner Williams rustled papers around on his desk to make space for his notebook, in which he was jotting down minuties. Renard felt quite satisfied that he had thrown the other man with his stylish abbreviated slang. “License number?”
Renard fetched his own much smaller notebook and pretended to consult a blank page while in fact sampling random letters and digits from the scrambled papers before him on the desk. “The plate was smeared in mud,” he explained, “and its inscription therefore difficult to decipher… But I believe the combination was something along the lines of, ah… GA 413TT.”
Williams took note. “So was this person a—? Oh, hello, Mrs. Eschholz.” For a woman roughly Renard’s age had arrived with a paper cup of steaming liquid. Micmac was considerate enough to give her a more sourd greeting than he had given to Commissioner Williams, with the result that the tea did not splatter all over the man’s office.
“Why aren’t you cute!” she exclaimed as the beast nuzzled her hand. “Here you are, Commissioner. Or is this yours?” She offered the cup to Renard.
“That’s fine, thank you,” said the Commissioner. Mrs. Eschholz saw her way out, though not before patting the dog again and murmuring goodbye to him. Williams settled back in his chair and returned his harsh gaze to Renard. “There you go, Rouletabille,” he added. “Don’t complain that it’s not as good as the Chinese stuff or whatever you’re used to. This isn’t a tea garden I’m running here.”
Think to yourself about how adorable the name Micmac is.
Renard nodded as he sipped the tea. Oh. Well it certainly was not as good as the Chinese stuff. There wasn’t nearly enough flavor to it. Even so, he’d agreed not to complain and he held to that. As he drank, the Caucasian shepherd, who had evidently been reminded by Mrs. Eschholz of how avenant it was to be petted, returned his snout to Renard’s fingers. Renard scratched his fur while privately agreeing with the lady vis-à-vis how adorable the name Micmac was.
Imply that trying to take down the well known powers will just end with everyone dying and being pissed off.
Renard motioned to set the paper cup down upon the desk and Williams started up very quickly out of his relaxed position. “Wait,” he said. He pulled some of the papers toward himself to clear a space for the cup, but then, with another look at Renard, apparently thought better of it. “Just… Just set it down on the shelf there,” he said, indicating a shelf slightly behind the detective and stocked with waterproof plastic binders. “And don’t make any big movements with your arms.” Renard interlaced his fingers on his lap. The Commissioner looked at his notebook. “Where were we? Right. Was this individual a Power? Could you tell when you saw him?”
“I saw nothing to prove that conclusively,” Renard responded, “and in fact I have reason to suspect he may not have needed to be one at all…”
“What?” Williams’ fists clenched. It was possible he hadn’t noticed. “Of course he was! How else could he have – Are you kidding me, Rouletabille? He had to have been a Power. Spare me your crackpot theories and—”
“I have reason to suspect he was not one,” Renard lied coolly. He reached out for the paper cup to take another sip and then fixed Williams with un regard sang-froid. “And may I say, Commissioner, I would hardly count it as advisable to declare war upon the Power community over something so trivial as a stolen painting. Your perception of ‘fairness’ is unlikely to be shared by those Powers who are consigned to suffering unduly for crimes they did not commit. And the innocent citizens of Ecruteak are, in turn, unlikely to thank you for the even more foudroyant acts committed by Powers who will feel they have already been classified as criminals and as such possess nothing more to lose.”
Williams swallowed heavily.
“What the hell does that mean,” he said in a low voice.
The Commissioner opened his mouth a second or two before voicing his next utterance. “Okay. Well. Great. You have no god damned idea what’s going on in this city. Good. We’ve established that. Now. If you think this is all just about a fucking painting, Rouletabille, then I urge you to keep your pissy little opinions to yourself. Do you understand me.”
Renard blinked. “I – I didn’t—”
Williams rose up out of his chair gradually, punctuating his ascent with each word. “You have no… mother… fucking… idea… what it is like to be me.” He towered over Renard once again. “And I don’t remember asking you for advice. So how’s this, Frenchman. I won’t tell you how to blow bubbles and be useless. And you will not tell me how to keep Ecruteak City safe. Agree to that, please.”
Renard looked up at him in stung silence.
Then he picked up his coat and stood up. “Bon,” he said. “I agree. I shall now retire to my apartment. Come along, Micmac.” And he took Micmac’s leash in hand. He might have made it to the door if the Commissioner’s meaty fist had not seized Renard’s forearm.
“Explain why you don’t think he was a Power,” Williams demanded over Micmac’s growls.
Renard glared at him. “Ah, but what good is my explanation, if I am such a useless creature?”
For an instant Williams’ eyes grew more hateful than ever but then he relaxed and let go of Renard’s arm. The detective stood there expectantly. “I won’t tell you how to blow bubbles,” Williams eventually grumbled.
It was the nearest thing to an apology Renard was likely to abstraire from him. “Very well,” he said, and sat back down. Micmac already seemed to have forgotten that the incident had taken place.
“What’s your theory?” the other man asked.
“My hypothesis, rather, is this.” What was it? Renard’s jeune mind raced. He was still holding Micmac’s leash. He was visited by a burst of inspiration. “Micmac aided me in formulating it.”
“The – what? The hypothesis?” Williams glared at the animal suspiciously. “Does he talk?”
“No no, he – Well, when I discovered Le roi Midas within the storage facility, Micmac appeared greatly agitated by the painting’s unusual smell. Upon closer inspection, I detected a number of different scents hanging upon the painting, including hand sanitizer, rusted steel, and…” (Renard was fabricating recklessly at this point) “…the fragrance of Strelitzia reginae, otherwise known as the bird of paradise!”
Williams stepped around him to the Boullogne and sniffed it tentatively.
“I don’t smell anything,” he said.
“The odors did not linger long upon the painting once the black leather cover had been unzipped, Commissioner.”
“Right.” Williams sat back down in his chair. “So what the hell do rust, soap and some flower have to do with a stolen painting?”
Obscure your explanation with so much French that it becomes impossible to follow.
“While you were at the gallery, did you by any chance happen to avail yourself of the restroom?”
“So you must have noticed,” asked Renard, referring back to a stop into the men’s restroom which in the name of taste we skipped over without harming the narrative, “that one of les waters was hors service?”
“What? Oh.” Williams nodded distractedly. “Yeah, yeah, it was.”
“It is my belief,” Renard declared with ever-increasing speed, “that on la nuit du crime, le voleur hid inside this stall jusqu’au l’obturation, se haussant sur la pointe des pieds atop the toilet and trusting that la femme de menage ne s’ouvrirait pas la porte. When she had gone, le voleur pousse ouvert une tuile en le plafond et climbed through the rusted puits d’aerage dans l’espace de commande. La-bas il passagerement shut off les cameras de surveillance et les lasers de securite et ensuite il fut libre de explorer la galerie sans encombre. Aussitot qu’il enleve la peinture, il s’hate vers l’entrée, mais a cette heure the security system was prochainement to power itself back on et afin de ne pas faire a attrape, le voleur se cache a derriere d’une Strelitzia reginae en pot jusqu’au—”
“Stop, stop,” Williams cut in, throwing his pen down upon the desk. “Jesus. Listen. Why don’t you come in tomorrow and file an official report. I need to see this on paper.”
“My car is not functioning at the moment…”
“Fine. Give us a call, we’ll pick you up.”
“Nor is my telephone.”
“All right, eight o’clock then!” the Commissioner huffed. “Does that work for you, Rouletabille? Eight o’clock in the morning. And when you get here, you’ll give your account for the record.”
Renard nodded. “Excellent.”
“Ou– of course.”
Williams squinted down at his notes again, his brow furrowed, before pushing himself up out of his chair for the final time that night, and at last not even pour intimider the detective. He sighed. “Well, that’s it for tonight, I suppose,” he said. “Go get some sleep, Rouletabille. You look like it’s been a long day.”
Go get some sleep. You've had a grueling day/night.
“Sir, it has been grueling,” Renard pronounced, standing up as well.
Micmac, who had curled up on the floor, sprang into action again and eagerly offered his leash to Renard, who took hold of it once he’d slipped his coat back on. “Will I be transported home?” he inquired.
“Arranged that when you came in,” said the Commissioner. “Landsvale’ll give you a ride home. He lives downtown too, and there’s enough room in the back for the big guy.”
“Oh magnificent,” said Renard. “And… Le roi Midas?” he asked, watching Williams hoist it up out of the chair.
“It’ll stay in our vault overnight. Which is manned by surveillance personnel twenty-four-seven. So no one’s gonna be waltzing in dressed as a potted plant, I promise you.” With the painting under one sturdy arm, Williams opened the door. Renard tugged Micmac up and out of the office, dropping the emptied paper cup into a dustbin on the way out. Williams closed and locked the door, then tried the doorknob a few times. Then he straightened up and the two men stood face-to-face. After a moment, he offered his hand and added, “You did well, Rouletabille, I mean it.”
Renard shook it. “Thank you very much.”
“No. Thank you,” Williams muttered. “Now get out of here, all right? Go rest up. You want to look your best tomorrow. Like I said – photos.”
“Merveilleux,” said Renard. “And all speed to you in your return home tonight, sir. I hope you arrive in time to see your daughters off to sleep.”
“I appreciate that, Rouletabille.”
Excitedly: “In fact I still remember several of the stories my father used to tell me – quite funny and imaginative tales – perhaps you might be interested to hear them – loosely translated, of course. I am reminded of the one about the baker’s wife who—”
“Thanks,” Williams interrupted. “Another time, maybe.”
But he was actually grinning.
“See you tomorrow, Rouletabille. Bright and early.”
“Bright and early, Commissioner,” Renard affirmed.
The other man stooped briefly to give Micmac one more stern scratching about the neck, then, raising his free hand flattened in a not-quite-salute, turned and walked down the brightly lit hall further into the building. Renard caught one more glimpse of King Midas, awestruck on the riverbank, before the Commissioner and the Boullogne passed through another door and vanished.
Inspector Denham Landsvale was waiting for him in the lobby.
“Heard you brought a dog,” he said by way of greeting. He knelt down. “Good boy.” For Micmac visited upon him the hearty hello that was the dog’s habitude.
“Hello again, Inspector.”
“Yeah,” said Landsvale, standing up again to regard the detective with his pale, very tired eyes. “Ready to head?”
They proceeded out the glass doors into the parking lot, where Landsvale made a line for a large peacock-blue automobile Renard believed was termed a “minivan”. “I have been given to understand you live relatively close to me.”
“Well…” Landsvale said, opening one of the back doors, “Kind of. Not really. Think Williams sort of misunderstood me.” He folded down both of the middle row seats, a neat trick Renard hadn’t seen before. “Didn’t feel like arguing though.”
“Oh no,” said Renard, “am I putting your out of your way? Please, sir, don’t require yourself to—”
“Forget it,” he replied. He beckoned Micmac up, and the dog bounded heavily into the automobile. “Don’t mind driving at all.” He slid the back door shut and pointed at the front passenger door, which Renard opened.
“Thank you very much, Inspector.”
“It’s nothing,” said Landsvale as they got in. He started the automobile. “Seems like you deserve it anyway,” he added as they pulled out of the lot.
“Ah, well, perhaps,” said Renard.
“Lot of money coming your way, I guess?”
“A bit,” he answered, in the manner of one who had almost forgotten.
He had not almost forgotten. Between the reward to be granted tomorrow and the repayment Mlle. Keigler had furnished him, Renard stood to gain quite a bit from today’s efforts. A large portion of that, of course, would need to go toward settling his debt to Madame Mangjeol. He would visit her tomorrow evening at the Passione Rossa and deliver the cash. She would be delighted, and she would revoke her threat, and perhaps she could use the money to resolve her own situation with whoever was menacing her.
And how many uses for them he could dream up, Renard reflected as Landsvale turned the minivan onto the brightly illuminated Dragonmouth Way. Nominally Mlle. Keigler’s disbursement had been for the purpose of administering repairs to his crippled automobile but Renard could conceive of more creative applications for it than that. Indeed, perhaps it was time to let the old buggy go. He couldn’t help but feel that the mademoiselle had the right idea with her cheap, light bicycle. Why not sell the small black automobile for salvage and take home even more money? A good bicycle would be a far tinier investment. Renard envisioned himself patrolling the streets of Ecruteak on two wheels, cutting an impressive figure as he listened for whispers of wrongdoing.
“’D you find the thing anyway?”
“In a storage facility on the docks,” Renard replied quickly. The Inspector nodded.
And then he could purchase a replacement camera. Perhaps one of the modern kinds that popped the photograph right out upon its inception. Technology could be a boon at times despite its best efforts. And there would be food and supplies for Micmac (who was currently busy emitting saliva all over an unconcerned Landsvale’s upholstery), and the phone bill would be satisfied, so that he could place a call to Mlle. Keigler and ensure that the dog’s needs would be met. And, of course, he would be able to ring up his dear aged mother…
“Some kind of hero, aren’t you,” Landsvale commented idly.
Renard thought about it, then smiled. “I suppose, technically, yes,” he said to the Inspector, “provided there is anyone in the world with a definition of ‘hero’ so broad as to encompass me…”
A distant roar sounded overhead. He craned his neck to glance up past the reflections of the streetlamps into the night sky. An airplane flew over them, intermittently visible among the dispersents clouds. Micmac whined. Perhaps it was the plane carrying Channery Keigler to her residence abroad. Or should she by this time already be over the Pacific? It didn’t matter. She was on her way home and so was he, and the Inspector and the Commissioner too. The airplane passed out of sight. He relaxed his head against the seat. He propped his elbow up by the window and tweaked his moustache very slightly. With all of the rain, the temperature tonight would be cool. He would sleep easily. He closed his eyes.
Renard Rouletabille and The Case of the Burgled Boullogne
ch00beh: i’m reading a story about an ornery old Cossack knight. Biscuit is this you
Nov 27, 2015 2:34:09 GMT -5
ch00beh: i ended up buying a steam controller instead of a 3d printer
Nov 27, 2015 0:25:05 GMT -5
Lady Kara: POOR BABY... hope they'll be okay.
Nov 26, 2015 20:14:49 GMT -5
Yoshimitsu: apparently the reason the cut is so big is because the vet tried to get as much of these weird lumps he has on his neck out. it probably looks worse than it is, but it really doesn't look good
Nov 26, 2015 15:12:26 GMT -5
LeeTupper: You've got my prayers, man.
Nov 26, 2015 14:53:12 GMT -5
Yoshimitsu: it's one thing to objectively know your pet has gone in for a biopsy. it's quite another to actually see the outcome :/
Nov 26, 2015 14:15:22 GMT -5
ch00beh: I have no strong opinions
Nov 26, 2015 12:55:18 GMT -5
LeeTupper: Is Ysane gone, or just in the same category as my NPC tier-Never getting an RP centered on her, but still running around as a villain/BBEG for when we need one?
Nov 26, 2015 2:06:13 GMT -5
ch00beh: ysane isn't a noun. neither is harmony, catch, barclay, chaos, or insanity. vieve can be a noun.
Nov 26, 2015 0:01:18 GMT -5
Lady Kara: I feel so majorly old when I see how many characters I've come up with over the years. Btw, though, did leave out a few - didn't post the crew of the "Phoenix Dawn" pirates, my OCs who're from the One Piece universe... not sure if I'll use 'em here or not
Nov 25, 2015 22:14:17 GMT -5
ch00beh: it's fine i just posted my stable and it is tiny
Nov 25, 2015 21:05:43 GMT -5
ch00beh: it is quality not quantity
Nov 25, 2015 21:05:21 GMT -5
Silumas: I just don't have enough characters to participate in the stable thread. lol I have two...about to be three, four if you count my solo writing.
Nov 25, 2015 21:03:06 GMT -5
Yoshimitsu: i saw some final fantasy tactics mafia plans! do it
Nov 25, 2015 17:48:16 GMT -5
Silumas: Speaking of mafia....when we playing again?
Nov 25, 2015 17:45:56 GMT -5
ch00beh: "After all, you are on the King Thomas" i read this as "After all, you are the King Thomas" and i was like "wow what a twist"
Nov 25, 2015 15:35:17 GMT -5
LeeTupper: I've been sitting on that reveal for years. Figured now was the right time. I'm sure a few folks had noticed how evasive I was when I mentioned "bringing in some enforcers to get the Mafia powered up a bit".
Nov 25, 2015 14:52:49 GMT -5