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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Adventures of Felix Mephisto, Gentleman: Part 2

Chapter 2. In which: Comforts & Clever Contrivances Notwithstanding, Felix Just Suffers

Fortified by a night of prayer, sincere repentance, and the sound sleep of the just, Felix rose at 7am according to his well-regulated habits. He was surprised - and not a little nonplussed - to see the Baron arrive bright, early, and confoundedly chipper at their designated rendezvous for the day. Thus refreshed, both our servants of the Crown faced the new day with the same idea: why not just maintain a watch upon the Bank of the Brothers Di Vittoria, to see what befell?

Preparing themselves again for hazard, they set off. Unfortunately there was no convenient tavern nearby to provide a comfortable vantage point. Fortunately there was an aging wealthy aunt of the Baron's living just across the street... ["You'll need a VERY good roll on your Luck," said Donald, in reply to Tony's query about local contacts. Tony rolled his dice. "Is a 2 good enough?" chorused our grinning faces.]

Greeted generously by said aunt's wrinkled retainer upon his answering the good Baron's knock at the door, we were introduced first to the aunt's lady companion: a veritable battle-axe of a virago who greeted our intrepid pair with all the warmth of a polar hurricane. Jean-Claude's aunt, on the other hand, greeted her prodigal nephew with questions about his health and his persistent bachelorhood, in the sort of barrage unique to distaff doting dotards. Sensing how long this would persist, the already noticably taciturn Felix requested a moment with the aunt's lady companion.

Showing her the Constable General's warrant that he had obtained from the deluged Jean-Claude, Felix explained the situation to this steely-eyed and icy matriarch. Spying her rosary, Felix privately bemoaned the loss - to the True Faith - of such a staunch matron. With a show of reluctance and evident distaste, she instructed the decrepit butler to show our young gentleman to the balcony, which turned out to have the perfect prospect for our pair's purpose.

Settling down Felix attended to his deck of cards, and to the game which had already cost him 8 of his precious 48 disposable livres per annum (an unprecedented run of luck for our good Baron, though insufficiently lucrative to recover the fortune his hitherto poorer luck had cost him, naturally enough). Brought some refreshments by the household's serving staff, he also began to enjoy a taste of the comforts to which he aspired. Eventually, he was joined by the Baron. Lunch was served soon thereafter.

In the hours they spent at their post, Felix and Jean-Claude saw 3 men follow the steps down to the basement door that had earlier caught their attention, only to reappear some quarter hour or more later. All of them wore in their breast pockets the vivid red kerchief which our PC's had found just so on the body of the dead le Droite; which le Droite and Chevalier Didonner were similarly wearing when the former was last seen alive - by the barman at the Black Cross Club; and which Felix still retained - for the sake of a possible ruse, naturally enough.

After a brief conference, our good Baron and his gentleman friend agreed that this was not a situation into which they could afford just to blunder, relying merely on the red kerchief and Felix's silver tounge. After all, there might be passwords, secret signs, and so on. They agreed on a simple plan proposed by Felix.

And so it was, after loitering in the street by the bank for some considerable time, Felix contrived to have to step smartly out of the way of the next wearer of a red kerchief who made to descend the steps to the basement door, then to drop his pack of cards. Picking them up gave him plenty of time to spy out the fellow's entry, which turned out to require nothing more - apparently - than the sight of the red kerchief through a spyhole in the door.

Things started rapidly to fall into place at this point. The situtation was thus: the war with England; Italian bankers handling Crown bonds to raise funds for the armed forces of France, and raising investments to equip ships of marque to take the war to the English in the Orient; a mysterious Spaniard lurking somewhere behind the band of the red kerchiefs; and the Constable General's fear that his own staff had been infiltrated. Our 2 companions were clearly facing more than merely the larceny that Felix had long suspected.

But all of that was as nothing right at that moment: it was time for dinner, and the good Baron and Felix were to dine with the Baron's aunt, and - as it turned out - a cousin of his: female, and also unmarried (tragically - in the eyes of the aunt, naturally enough).

This cousin turned out to be a prattling horse-faced dullard with a laugh like a braying donkey, a sentimental attachment to the indigent, and a passion for her Catholic faith. All of which reduced her to less in Felix's eyes than the utter disinterest Jean-Claude could barely be bothered to conceal. The meal passed in a strained atmosphere utterly devoid of conviviality. Even Felix's charm failed him conspicuously.

Suddenly our young gentleman felt a stockinged foot stroke his calf under the table. The man's astonishment rapidly turned to utter horror when he realised that his would-be seductress wasn't the droning mare. No. It was the grim-faced battleaxe (a hatchet-faced hag aged some thrice Felix's 19 years, by God!), whose foot spoke of something of which her face betrayed not a jot. Begging to be excused, Felix attended to his toilet in the hopes of regaining a measure of what would pass for composure, and the cessation of this torment on his return to the table.

Luck was not with him however. So he grit his teeth, planted both feet firmly on the floor, and added his grimly restrained hysterical outrage to the pleasures of the company for the remaining courses of the longest meal of his short life. The gentlemen's retreat to the smoking room came as a blessed relief.

We have business to attend to, he implored the Baron.

At this time of night, when the ladies are about to join us? came the crushing reply.

As the evening wound its painful way to a polite goodnight, Felix fondly hoped that the successful conclusion of their mission would not only benefit his beloved France, but would also bring him his just reward in terms of favour, fortune and advancement.

Otherwise... Otherwise... Otherwise...Well, otherwise what exactly?

**********

How we laughed! ;)
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