#9 stand –alone story
The Life and Crimes
of Lockhart and Doppler
An Illustrated journal of
amusement, adventure and instruction
Red and Rubies”
We had been in town for about two weeks,
moving from lodging house to dive, keeping a very low profile amongst the detritus of society since our
encounter with Lord Nelson Orange at his mansion, and the theatre afterwards
(see #8 ‘A Rotten Borough’). Where Nelson had left with his life, but his pride
severely dented (as well as his face). He would never forget and he would never forgive.
So due to his standing
in London society and his monetary backing, I had considered it prudent to lie
low for some time. He was an enemy not to be taken lightly.
Doppler and I were
dressed like down and outs, patched pants and greasy long coats. We maintained
some essentials about our persons and in our cracked, leather holdalls. I also
had a healthy deposit in the Banque de France made during previous excursions,
should we ever require it. We had departed our current digs this grey morning
and wandered in an apparently aimless fashion about the city. I know some
people think I act in a rash manner at times; reckless or foolhardy. I call it
adventurous, but I am not stupid, I did not believe for one minute that Lord
Nelson Orange would not be attempting
to track us down. (Rule #8: Never let your guard down. Ever). Now
it was beginning to rain. That incredibly fine, deceptive drizzle that sits
like cobwebs on hoods and hair, until that is, it soaks through then persists
on making its way through to your skin. But we were so greasy from our second,
nay third hand clothing and lack of washing that the water slicked off us, like
a fried egg cooked in cheap fat off a greasy enamel plate.
Doppler, “I’m sick of this. Can’t we stay somewhere decent just for one night?”
“We can’t take the
risk.” I replied.
“But it’s been weeks
and we have seen nothing. Besides, I think I have fleas. Ugh!” she exclaimed,
scratching at her belly through the thick layers.
A group of tipsy
labourers were rolling and singing towards us.
“Let’s grab a drink
while we think about it.” I suggested.
dubious. We had been thrown out of a number of ale-houses and cafes during our
self-imposed exile. We had been insulted, spat at, even had some change lobbed
our way. It was a far cry from some of the grand balls I had attended; invited
“Bonsoir madams, un
aperitif?” grinned one of the moist eyed friends of everyone.
We shuffled past them,
I smiled in a perfunctory manner. Doppler kept her head down. The spokesman
turned, causing the shoulder linked group to swing around in the street. The
man on the end moving at some speed so that he staggered and fell.
“Thank you, but no.” I
replied firmly. “Have a good night.” I added.
“You too.” Replied the
I paused. He paused.
I looked him straight in the eye and saw him
straightening up, his companions crumpling to the floor like dropped toys.
“Look sharp!” I barked
She didn’t need
telling a second time. We
both dived in opposite directions as the fake drunk pulled a lumpen pistol from
his back waistband. A shot rang out. The real drunks were rolling or scrambling
about on the damp cobbles, attempting to crawl out of the immediate danger. A
couple of cries went up and folk on the street dashed for cover. As I pulled a
knife from my boot, I saw Doppler whip out her wicked stiletto come dagger.
Flicking her wrist, Doppler could cause the blade to extend to eighteen inches.
(See#1Penny Dreadful: The Stone of the Sons of Horus). I threw my knife which
stuck in our attackers shoulder –I didn’t want to kill him (not yet anyway), I
wanted to question him.
I strongly suspected Nelson had hired
him. He growled and grimaced in pain, he aimed at me and pulled the trigger. I
moved, but not quickly enough, these damn greasy rags were slowing me down. My
left arm sang out in a sharp, bright agony. I sloughed off the heavy overcoat.
As he made a dash at Doppler, perhaps to grab her as a hostage or human shield,
she struck out with her silver bright stiletto. He practically ran into it. The
sweeping motion of the blade scored a red line from his left eye to lower right
cheek, where it pierced through, exiting at his jawline. He came to a shrieking
halt. Doppler easily pulled the slender point free, wiped it clean and
retracted it. I arrived barely a second later, piling into him and barrelling
him to the ground. He fell heavily, his head bouncing on the hard cold street.
I made it bounce some more.
“Who sent you?!”
“Are there others?!”
Doppler sauntered up,
tucking her wicked steel away,
“We’ll never know if
you carry on like that.” She calmly said.
I paused my
interrogation. There was blood everywhere, streaming from the slash across his
face and the holes pierced by Doppler. He wasn’t even struggling anymore, he’d
gone all floppy and weepy. Between us, Doppler and I dragged him to a sitting
position against a barrel of nails outside an ironmongers. We crouched either
side of him. His drinking buddies had scarpered. I suspect he had befriended
them simply for cover. I asked him if he knew us and how long he had been
“Ye, I knows you. Saw
you ‘bout three days ago, thought I’d best keep an eye open as to what you were
about.” He sniffed. He had an East London accent.
“You won’t have an eye
to open if you don’t talk.” Threatened Doppler.
“You’re a bit of a way
from home.” I said. “Know someone called Orange by any chance? Lord Orange.”
He shrugged. I stood
and took a handful of nails from the barrel and crouched back down. They were
horseshoe nails, flat sided, short, vicious.
“Got a name?” I asked.
He swallowed looking
at the nails in my palm. I took one and twirled it betwixt thumb and
forefinger. He pulled his head away. I aimed the tip at the entrance wound in
chattered, “Name’s Closset!”
“Just Closset?” I
pressed the point, (the question point, not the nail point, you get my drift)
“Walter” he added
Doppler and I
exchanged a look, she stood so he wouldn’t see the grin spreading across her
face. Maintaining my serious expression I continued.
“W.C? Well Walter. I’m
sure you weren’t just out for a bevvy with the lads and decided to take a pot
shot at a couple of sacs a merde that we are supposed to be. Spill.”
explained that he had indeed been paid by Lord Nelson Orange to exterminate
(Nelsons word, not Walters), Doppler and I. Orange had a number of people in
his pay, all like Walter, from amongst the worker types. Orange was yet to make
the contacts his father had in the underworld I supposed. One day though. Walter
was by trade a Waterman on the Thames, like his father. But Nelson had a hold
over him; Nelson had accused Walter Closset senior of murder, a crime of which
he was innocent. The victim had been a business ‘associate’ of Nelsons and
although Nelson cared not a fig for anyone but himself, he found he could use
the man’s death as a device for blackmailing the Closset family (and others too
I theorised) who were guild members and would lose their position should the
accusation be made public. It would be a Lords word against a tradesman’s.
Walter and his father knew who would lose. Even if not found guilty, quite possibly they
would be thrown out of the guild and never work the river again. It would
destroy his mother, she was not in the best of health and so when Nelson had
approached him to carry out this dirty deed, or face his father being ‘exposed’
as a murderer, Walter felt he had no choice. Walter had never fired a gun
before, it was a lucky shot, not so lucky for me, but it could have been worse.
The noise had frightened him he admitted.
“I need a doctor,
please, let me go.” Walter begged.
“We both need stitches.”
I said, “But we need cleaning up first. Listen, Walter. If we can get your
father free of the blackmail threat, what say you to doing us a little favour?”
Walter’s eyes shone,
“You’d do that? For me?”
“Course we would. Now
let’s get clean and I’ll tell you me plan.”
I was going to attempt
to get Walter senior free of the accusations, however, you know me, can’t have
chaps wandering around with lingering grudges, got to make ‘em work for you and
I had an idea to not only get Walter on our side, but that would annoy the hell
out of Nelson Orange too.
We took Walter to one
of our earlier lodging houses, in which we had stored our regular clothing and
some locked boxes of ‘necessities’. I had paid the concierge a decent fee to
keep a room for us, where we all had baths after sending out for a number of
clothing items. Doppler stitched my arm where the bullet had scraped through
(not for the first time!) and Walter’s face. The landlady had one of those
new-fangled machines that does away with rubbish, a De-Fabricator they call it.
In went all our old stinking clothes. Walter was delighted and grateful for his
new clothes, simple though they were; a double-breasted, blue, moleskin jacket
as worn by French factory workers and a pair of blue pantaloons de Nimes. An
ankle length periwinkle blue, two piece suit for myself with same length,
darker blue top coat with high collar, deep cuffs and inside pockets. And for
Doppler a sky blue, cotton day dress and matching jacket, navy influenced.
However, Doppler and I
did not don our new outfits just yet, we had business to do. We
left Walter to recover from his facial wounds in our room and headed out into
the grim drinking dens of the port. There are a number of insalubrious holes
down there, I was looking for a particular one. One that was home to English
quaffers. ‘Mother Hubbard’s Dog’ was such a
place. A gin house filled with sailors, down at heel poets and criminals.
Parfait! We entered and ordered drinks – Doppler maintained her sobriety, her
young self not being accustomed to alcohol. However, I myself can consume large
quantities of gin with little impression. I once had a drinking contest with
some artist chappie, Landseer I think his name was, couldn’t hold his liquor; cried
like a baby when I insulted one of his paintings.
Anyhow, we listened into a few conversations
as we moved about the rooms. Tobacco smoke practically obscuring ones view
beyond half a dozen feet. A small group of pitch eyed miscreants were playing
some drinking game, a small scattering of coins between them, so I asked if I
could join in. Initially they were disinclined, until I gently dropped a small
pouch of coins on their table. I could almost see their ears prick up like dogs
at the sound of the food bowl going down.
“Why, of course ye can
missus” pipes up an elderly rogue, “Sit yerself ere, next to me.” He shuffled
along a narrow bench to make room.
sniffed a poxy fellow on my other side.
“I don’t believe I
have.” I replied innocently.
A look passed between
him and another fellow with surly features. His shoulders settled back into a
more relaxed posture. As we played, I kept a covert eye on pertinent things
like; physique, possible weapons and how much alcohol they were consuming.
Doppler stood to one side keeping quiet. The game was crude, the rules simple;
pick a subject, everyone begins tapping the edge of their finger on the table
together in seconds, the first person says something related to the subject and
on each tap, the next person around must say a related word. So if the subject
is clothing, it might go; tap – shoe, tap – stocking, tap – breeches and so on.
But should a person go straight to an item not related to the previous, like
glove or collar, they drink down their gin. The speed must be maintained, if
you miss a beat, you drink your gin, if you say a wrong word, you drink your
gin. Simple. However, after a number of gins, it becomes harder to keep the
rhythm and find words with speed. The fun bit is that a subject can swerve off
into a new one should a word be able to connect. Hull may be part of a ship,
but it is also a place in England, so the subject of sailing ships may move to places
in England. The old fellow, Connors was his name, was able to hold quite
vast quantities of gin, just as well, because he was rubbish. The other two,
Hobbs and Joyce, were more capable, especially Hobbs who took a vicious delight
in relieving old Connors of his wages. I had my mark.
It was dark when we
left the gin house. Doppler had left just prior to us and waited outside in the
shadows. I saw her in a doorway opposite as I pretended to stagger and sway,
supported by Hobbs. We had struck up a kind of desultory friendship. I
whispered in his ear. He drunkenly shooed Joyce and Connors away. Old Connors
patted him on the back in a congratulatory manner whilst Joyce called out
vulgar suggestions. We wobbled off down the street, arms linked, singing. He had
a terrible voice, he had appalling manners and made lewd proposals with nary an
iota of creativity in them. Gods help any woman he ever encountered in the
rummaging department. Except women were about to be safe from Hobbs’ future
fumbling’s. Old Connors would never lose his wages to the nasty piece again.
Doppler walked ahead a few yards and I followed with Hobbs. She began to slow
as we came beneath a railway bridge over a narrow canal. Hobbs called out.
“Oi! Darlin’, cm’ere.
Show ush ye…”
“Leave it out Hobbs,
she’s jusht a kid.” I slurred back.
“Stuck up prinshesh
The moon was low
tonight, it glimmered and wavered on the surface of the water just beyond the
shade of the bridge. Doppler turned on her heel and at some speed came up close
to Hobbs and I. Took him by surprise. He staggered back a little as I freed
“It’s you who is stuck
up mister Hobbs. Or at least you will
Eh? Slag!” he grinned, baring his brown teeth and turned to look where I stood,
arms folded, watching.
Hobbs rocked back and
forth on his heels, befuddled, but he could still put up a fight. I reached inside
my duster and pulled out a length of slim rope. Hobbs squinted at it. I began
tying a slipknot. Hobbs squinted some more.
“What’cha doin’? Eh?
Slag, I’m talkin’ t’you.”
“Well now mister
Hobbs. Seems like this is the end of our acquaintanceship.” I spoke as I
tightened the knot. “If you would just be so kind as to slip this over your
head, there’s a good chap.” I held out the looped rope.
Hobbs gawped from me
to the rope. A faint, derisory snort and then he realised he was in trouble. He
straightened up with effort, reached into a back pocket and pulled out a flick
knife. He waved it back and forth before my face, leering.
“Bitch, thought you’d
get one over on old Hobbshy eh?” Hic.
“Well, I’ve got news for you. Takes more gin than you’ve got.”
“Really mister Hobbs?
Do you see me unbalanced? I think not.”
“I’m gonna cut you
like a pig, I’m gonna slice you up, I’m gonna…arg!”
Doppler had moved
quickly in and injected him in the neck with one of her syringes she habitually
carried about. As Hobbs slapped his free hand to the place, he spun around to
threaten her with the knife, she easily stepped away. He pulled his hand free
to look at his palm.
“I’m bleedin’, you cut
“She didn’t cut you
mister Hobbs.” I said dropping the looped rope over his head, “She merely
injected you.” I quickly pulled it tight before he could turn around again.
“And now you will feel a little sleepy.”
Hobbs tried to turn as
I held onto the rope close to the knot. He slashed wildly with the knife, I
grabbed his knife hand and pressed down hard on the little finger, compressing
it tightly. Hobbs yelped in pain. The knife dropped. Now he began to claw at
the rope about his neck. It is quite amazing how much strength a person can
muster when they feel they are about to die, even full of alcohol and sleeping
draught. I held on with both hands and yanked him sideways so he toppled, then
placing my boot between his shoulder blades, pulled hard. That was the easy part. When
Hobbs was dead, we contrived to string him up under the bridge, it took some
manoeuvring between us, but eventually experience and physics won out. Into his
pocket we placed two items, one being a tattered, scrawled note, which
basically admitted to the murder of Mr. John Seabank and vaguely implemented
Nelson Orange. Couldn’t live with the guilt, blah, blah, blah.
A ships horn sounded.
Two bells rang out from another.
“One of the clock.” I
said. “Ask not for whom the bell tolls, mister Hobbs. It tolls for thee.”
And so we left him.
Swinging like a coal sack under the wonderful wrought iron rails.
afternoon, in our new attire, Doppler and I made our way to the nearest police
station. I explained that my niece here, had on the previous day been accosted
by a man in labourers clothing and that he had stolen an item of hers. A small,
gold hair comb. Quite unusual, and rather expensive. We gave him false names,
we had just arrived on the passenger ship Pelican
the previous day when this dreadful event occurred. The gendarme was
sympathetic, if a little inept. I described the features and clothing of the
man and he seemed to cock his head.
“Un moment s’il vous
He hurried to speak to
another officer. We repeated our story. We described the golden hair adornment
and to our astonishment and delight (!) he produced said item from his desk
drawer. Yes! This was it. How marvellous, he was marvellous. How did he find
it? He made modest gestures and humble noises as we told him how magnifique he
was. He lapped it up. He even told us that no matter how precious the comb was
to us, he, Inspector Raymond Le Terne had discovered something far more
important; a murderer that the British police would decorate him for. The dead man
had obviously fled England after killing this gentleman and could not live with
the guilt, so hanged himself. How awful, we gasped. He, Le Terne, would be
honoured by the greatest force in the world. It was but a short telegraph
message away. We left him to his self-aggrandisement.
Next, we visited a
questionable photographic studio, where we convinced the leery proprietor to
take a photograph of us as if dead. He quite enjoyed the macabre theme, even
attempting to persuade us to “Open a button or two”. He received short shrift
for that one. Doppler and I contained our giggles as we lay on fake cobbles as
he exposed the glass plate for a full minute. We hung about the studio while he
went off to print the image. Unfortunately, whilst he was in his darkroom,
‘someone’ pulled the dark-room curtain open a tad, thus causing the image to
develop patches of darkness. The finished photograph showed two women lying
askew on the cobbled street of Calais, the image was not very clear, but if you
knew who they were, you could identify the bodies. It was all we needed. We
took this picture to Walter Closset with instructions to return to Lord Nelson
Orange, and to tell him that the Missus Lockhart and Doppler were dead. The
shared blame laid at Nelsons door for the murder, would not stick, I knew that. But it would irk.
“Now can we start living decently?” Doppler said.
“Where would you like
to go?” I asked
“I wish we had the
Professor Selwyn.” She griped. The Professor Selwyn was our own vessel a hot
air balloon with habitable sphere suspended beneath.
“Well we haven’t. We
can take the steam train. You like the new railways.”
“I do.” She mused,
“Alright, the south, warm and sunny, with beaches. Cannes maybe.” She glanced
at me sideways.
“Beaches?” I was surprised.
Doppler had never expressed an interest in the delights of sunshine and beaches
before. She usually preferred the dark confines of her laboratory or a library.
Her pale face testament to unhealthy habits and unsociable hours. She came up
and grasped my hand in hers.
“The rich go there
Lockhart! Aristocrats, the moneyed!”
“Isn’t it aristocrats
we came here to be rid of?” I queried.
“Only the one.” She
said, “Besides, where there are aristocrats, there’s bound to be jewels. Just
think Lockhart, all those fat Ladies with diamonds in their rooms!”
“We’re not thieves
Doppler.” I said, “At least, not common thieves. Too easy. We don’t steal from
peoples rooms. Just peoples tombs.”
someone’s room is what got us here in the first place. Remember?!”
“Alright, alright.” I
acquiesced. “It’ll take some time. We could do our own Grand Tour en route – of
Doppler rolled her
eyes. But she was getting her wish – a trip to the beach!
But there was a
problem that we had not foreseen. France, wonderful as it is, did not have a
rail system to match England (where did?). It did not have an iron industry on
the same scale and few towns were connected up. So we took the steam train from
Calais to Amiens and from there we took the Trans-France Micro Passenger Blimp
to the Champagne-Ardennes region. Doppler stared out of the windows the whole
time, pointing out the tiny farm houses and other airships. This section of the
sky over France was not particularly busy. The French eschewed much modern transportation
for the traditional horses, horse-drawn vehicles and walking, except when
travelling huge distances.
In a roadside inn we
lounged for a day or two drinking, what else but champagne. In Burgundy we
stayed in a delightful pension where they served baguettes and rich-smelling
Epoisses cheese, along with a delightfully light white wine.
We purchased two cases
of Pinot Noir to see us through the rest of the journey, although Doppler was
less inclined to partake whilst we were in transit. I had a case sent home to
England for future indulgence. Each time we made a stop, I personally oversaw
the removal of our belongings, keeping an eye on our ruby red bottles with
their waxy red seals, just in case anyone felt inclined to refresh themselves
at our expense.
Despite what people
say about Champagne, I have to say I was more impressed with the fayre of the Rhône-Alpes region. The landscape is a stunning variation
from valleys and vineyards to aromatic lavender fields and mountains. The air
is sharp, crisp and clear; just like some of their wines in fact. I had a saucy
little Beaujolais with my Lyon sausage, whilst Theodora acquired a taste for
Chartreuse liqueur. We were introduced to a strange dish called fondue. From Switzerland originally, it
is a thing that one could easily take an instant dislike to as you have a long
handled fork onto which you spear a small piece of bread, then proceed to dip
it into a heated pot of melted cheese! We watched a couple of locals eating the
stuff and I have to say, it looked like stringy vomit to me. However; we were
persuaded to give it a try – mainly by dint of the fact it has wine in it. Soon
I was dipping bread, bits of chopped sausage and even chunks of cheese into
me tell you something about foreign food. When you travel abroad quite a
bit as I do, you can become quite complacent about dietary care. I have eaten
stuff in foreign parts that would curl your toes, stuff I would never consider
back home in Blighty. What is it that gets into us English when abroad, I
cannot tell. I have eaten alligator, roast bat, snake, some stinking fungi and
numerous victuals that I didn’t have a clue what I was shoving down my gullet.
I like to think I have developed a pretty hardy constitution. But this fondue
business was something else. All through that night, after consuming what
possibly amounted to a months’ worth of cheeses, I had the most horrendous
hollow-like burning in my chest. I felt like the whole days’ worth of food had
balled itself in a cheesy mass in my lower gullet. No amount of cheeky Pinot
was getting rid of that. I thumped my sternum, attempted to belch the pressure
away until Theo, turning in irritation in the bed next to me, suggested I go
and “walk it off”.
So I pulled on my boots and trews, and headed
out the door. I made my way quietly along the short landing and down the two
flights of uncarpeted stairs to the front parlour. I imagined the hotel to be
locked up for the night. All was silent and dark. My way shown by the moon lit
sky, casting its silver across the floor and furniture. The main door was in
fact open, I suppose it’s a habit of country folk. Ensuring I did not disturb
anyone, I softly closed the door behind me and took my curmudgeonly digestion
for a brisk promenade.
had a pretty fair idea of the land surrounding the hotel, despite what an
onlooker might have perceived as a drunken disregard for the scenery, I had
been paying attention. (Rule #17. Know your way out) A short
trot along a pale, stony path that curved around the back of the hotel and it’s
garden, then a diversion that led me away from the nearby town and up a narrow
track heading onto a wooded rise. It was nowhere near being a mountain, rather
a big hill, but I found myself getting breathless uncommonly quickly. It was
most certainly my overzealous cheese eating rather than lack of fitness on my
part. I had after all climbed mountains in Peru, fought men twice my size and
held my own stamina wise, and had to run for great distances to escape various
persons whom I had relieved of their wealth, status or dignity; sometimes all
stopped at a suitable spot and breathed deep, surveying the scene beyond. From
here, I was looking down onto the rear of the hotel. The night lay across
Grenoble like a blue-black silken kerchief. It was past midnight, all the
locals would be tucked up in their little beds, not a light to be seen. Except, as I stared into the darkness, I
detected the faintest of glimmers. It drew my eye because it was moving; like a
firefly bobbing along quite low. Someone was approaching the hotel in the dead
of night. Someone was keeping a tiny lamp low. Now as far as I’m aware, a
person only carries a light for two reasons; one, to see by and two, as a
signal. As the night sky was actually clear enough to create a clear path, I
could only presume it was to let someone know they were approaching. A lovers
edged my way back down as carefully and quietly as I could. Somewhere off to my
right, a hunting owl screeched. A sleepy bird rustled and chipped in its sleep.
I could hear low voices now. To the very rear of the hotel garden I spied the
tiny, hand held light. It sat on the ground now between two figures. They were
having a very covert meeting thought I, and being a naturally suspicious and
nosy person, I made it my job to find out more.
Fanny Voler. L'aérodrome Grenoble. Il les a dans un cas brune.” The Flying Fanny, Grenoble airfield. He has
them in a brown case.
“Il ne se soucie pas
comment vous les obtenez, il suffit de ne pas se faire prendre.” He does not care how you get them, just do not get caught.
Another grunt of
“Ici. Prends ça.” Here. Take this.
Then the little light
was lifted, I caught the briefest glimpse of a face. I did not recognise it.
Then the two men parted. I sat still and low for some moments pondering what I
had overheard. One fellow was apparently to go and retrieve something from the
brown case of a man, who would be travelling at ten of the clock on The Flying
Fanny from Grenoble air field. Then something had been handed over. In my
experience the only people who meet up at odd hours, in the dark and exchange
information are either criminals or politicians; sometimes one and the same.
I was just about to
rise and head back to my bed, when a third figure detached itself from the
shadows of the hotel. Someone else had been listening in on the clandestine
conversation. This individual was extremely adept at moving silently and
remaining hidden, despite his evident bulk. This man was solid muscle, though
he could move at speed. He was patient, polite and subservient, but a mean
fighter. I knew him; a man named Hotchkiss, Rene de Cavelliers’ butler. The
last time we had met, I had hit him with a valuable stone artefact. (See The
Stone of the Sons of Horus. Part 2) I did not relish encountering him again. He
was obviously here for his employer, and if he was listening in to this meeting
then it could only mean one thing – there was something definitely worth having
in the brown case. I watched him until he had headed, like the shadow of a cat,
along the turning pathway leading into town, until I could see him no more. Then
I made my way, cautiously, back inside the hotel.
In the morning, having
explained to Doppler what I had seen and heard during my late night, or early
morning depending on how you live your life, wanderings, we arranged to have a
recce of the airfield. There was Le Fanny Voler, one of the Trans-France
Micro Passenger Blimps, amidst a number of other, almost identical dirigibles. There
were a number of official buildings along the western edge of the field and a
series of hangars beyond them. After
some pernickety passenger acting, we discovered that The Flying Fanny and her
sister ship Mutine would both be heading for Marseille this very day. Now I had
to decide whether to stay with the ship the mark would be on, and risk being
discovered by de Cavelliers bludger butler. Or, should we ride the sister ship
in the hope he wasn’t doing the same thing? In the end we bought tickets for
both airships. We did not have much time before passengers would begin arriving
from their various hotels, pensions and inns, so we set too. We bid the ticket
salesman au revoir and apparently left the airfield.
we circumvented the buildings and discovered an easily accessible room,
currently unoccupied, that had exactly what we were after – uniforms. They were
in various states of cleanliness, however we needed something from low down the
pecking order, waiters or suchlike, the kind of position that might be filled
at the last minute by a newcomer and not raise suspicion. Having found a likely
livery, Doppler changed. Luckily there was a hat to go with the uniform; a
tight fitting beret in navy blue. Evidently the Trans-France Micro Passenger
Blimp Company had aspirations to join the French Navy. Doppler’s hair fit into
the slouch section that fell over to one side. With her slender physique and no
make-up, she could pass for an adolescent male, if no-one looked too closely. I
rummaged in my belongings and pulled out a little silver tube. Using the brush
cautiously, I applied a fine amount of mascara to the downy, blonde hairs on
Doppler’s upper lip, then filled in her eyebrow hairs further.
“My, you are handsome
monsieur Doppler.” I curtsied.
Next, I began my
transformation into a middle-aged, overweight spinster dressed from head to toe
in black. It’s simply a matter of wearing most of the clothing from one’s
travelling trunk, using too much powder and screwing up the face like a lemon
licker. We kept ourselves out of sight until there were a number of passengers
waiting to board and tickets were being collected. We scrutinised the
travellers. There were about fifty or sixty individuals waiting to board the
two vessels; these were not the massive airships we saw in Great Britain and
America. Doppler stayed with the crew waiting to see where she would be sent. I
watched, keeping a lookout for a man with a brown case and Cavelliers butler.
Hotchkiss did not
bother to hide. He simply turned up, small amount of luggage in tow, showed his
ticket and waited in the queue reading his newspaper. At
the last minute, a carriage pulled up and a dowdy, nervous looking fellow got
out. Looked like a trainee accountant to me, he had a brown leather attaché
style case. He was directed straight to the open field where the dirigible
waited rather than queueing and I saw him board Le Fanny Voler. Now they allowed everyone else to board. Doppler
slid in amongst the staff. I would have to trust she could pull off the
disguise alone now. I kept myself behind Hotchkiss’ line of sight and watched
him, where he was looking would lead me to the first man watching the mark.
Finally on board, I
settled at a window seat with table. The cabin was divided into sections,
presumably to keep the riff-raff apart from the nobs. I pulled out my copy of
Le Monde and holding it in my black lacework gloves, peered at it through
circular spectacles. A waiter came to take my order of tea and gin, a rather
young fellow with the beginnings of a sparse moustache grazing his lip. A large
French couple sat opposite me, ruddy of cheek and wary of eye, I believe it was
their first flight. We began one of those intermittent conversations that
people have when thrown together for a short period of time.
young waiter returned with our drinks, and a snack selection for the large
couple - I hoped the Flying Fanny would be able to take off. My gin glass
rested on a circular, paper coaster. Putting it in my lap without anyone
noticing I read the reverse; Fr.Pt.
Neither Hotchkiss nor the drab mark were in my compartment, so I guessed
Hotchkiss had a place up front too. And if Hotchkiss was there, then so was the
man I had eavesdropped in the garden.
Halfway through the flight, many passengers took themselves for a stroll
to stretch their legs, some went to the little smoking lounge to the very rear.
I pootled off. In the front cabin, portside, I found my man, or should I say,
men. There was the mark sat in a window seat, looking for all the world like he
was carrying a bomb; he sweated, his right cheek twitched below his eye and he
clung onto his case tightly. How anyone was to get it off him I didn’t know. In the
centre sat Hotchkiss, calm as you like, sipping tea and doing a crossword
puzzle. I was pretty sure he would not remember my face, he’d seen me briefly about
two years ago, and only then by the light of a lantern at best. I headed into
the cabin, walked past him and made my way to the observation area. From here,
not only did I have a lovely view of the south of France spread before us, but
I could turn around and see the whole cabin, from front to rear. The
compartments were not completely separated or enclosed individually, just
partial dividers and open entranceways. A steward made his way along, stopping
for passengers who had questions or requests. When he entered the front
compartment, he went almost directly to the attaché case man. Bent slightly in
a subservient manner, as if taking the man’s order. But the dun man had not
turned until spoken to. This was the fellow from the garden. I scrutinised him
thoroughly, as did Hotchkiss. I knew what I was up against with Hotchkiss, to a
degree, but I needed to get a feel for this fellow.
He stood around five
foot eleven, his uniform was a poor fit and he needed a shave. All in all, not
very prepared for the role. Sloppy. The blue, uniform pants were high waisted,
the white jacket short, my keen eye detected a slight bulge in the line of his
clothing. I seriously hoped the man wasn’t dumb enough to fire off a weapon
whilst in the air, we’d all go up like a firework! He went away, then came back a
moment later with a glass of brown liquor, placed it on the small table, bowed
with his head and departed. I watched him watching over his shoulder. Hotchkiss
didn’t make any indication that he was interested at all. The mark picked up
the glass in trembling fingers and knocked it back in one, screwing his eyes up
in distaste. Either, he had a fear of flying or he carried something of import.
I could almost feel my fingertips itching.
Guessing that no-one
would make their move until we were coming into land, or passengers were
disembarking, I headed back to my seat. The French couple looked rounder than
when I’d left them – if possible. Everyone was disembarking at Marseilles,
there was no airfield at Cannes; God forbid anything should mar the paradise
playground of the rich.
bustled in disorderly fashion, claiming hand luggage, grabbing a last free
drink, hurrying to be first on sunny soil. Some took their time; smoking a last
cigarette in the smoking lounge. I loitered around and saw the man who had been
dressed as a steward, now in civilian clothing, sitting opposite the mark,
apparently making conversation. There was no indication that the dun chappie
was listening. Then
peering around furtively, the ex-steward pried the case from the unresisting
hands, stood up and nonchalantly exited the cabin. Hotchkiss was trailing him,
assisting a young lady with her baggage. Disembarking was a slow process, but
eventually I had my feet on terra-firma. A tap on my shoulder,
“Can I help you with
your luggage madam?”
I turned to see
Doppler, still in uniform, her mascara moustache looking a little sweaty and
smudged. We followed the queue through Arrivals, Doppler with a bag tucked
under each arm and a case in either hand.
“Blimey!” she puffed,
“How do they do this?” the cases were slipping and she struggled with the
I had to get her out
of the disguise toute suite, or it would be a disguise no longer. I could see
Hotchkiss about twenty people ahead of me, which meant he had the new mark in
sight. Finally we were free of the sweating cluster. Doppler went to the public
convenience to change, whilst I sat outside on one of my cases, watching were
people were going. The fake steward didn’t take one of the carriages laid on
for Cannes. Instead he made his way into the town of Marseilles on foot. It was
only a ten minute walk. Hotchkiss hailed a small dos-a-dos, a two person
dog-cart and headed along the same road. Having all our luggage and the crates
of wine, we did the same. As we travelled, I kept my eyes on Hotchkiss, whilst
Doppler kept the mark in sight. She stood outside the hotel
with the bags whilst I booked us a room. A bellboy came to collect our things
and I followed him in the elevator. As it rose, he looked me up and down from
the corner of his eye.
“English?” he asked.
“Yes. That obvious?”
He shrugged, “Your
style of attire madam, is, how shall I say – unusual. Not French.”
Cheeky blighter, I
thought. I was not aware that leather boots, khaki pants and duster were
“You have English
riding boots madam. And the way you wear your cravat, is fastened in the English style.”
“How do you know so
much about clothing?”
He gave that Gallic
shrug again. “When you spend as long as I do watching people, you begin to
I looked him up and
down. “How old are you?”
“Twenty madam.” Hmm, I
thought. Too young.
“Listen.” I said when
he had deposited the luggage. “How would you like to earn some extra francs?”
He pulled at his
jacket, straightened himself, licked a finger and drew it along a brow. Raising
said eyebrow, he strutted closer grinning. “And what would madam fancy?”
“Not that!” I
exclaimed. He had reached out to touch my arm. His hand fell to his side. I
looked him over again, considering. No, no, no, I couldn’t. “No, what I want is
for you to keep a lookout for me.” I described the mark and Hotchkiss to the
bellboy. He had no qualms about acting as my informant. And maybe afterwards I
could... What was I thinking?! He was fourteen years younger than me!
“They’re both in the
café across the…Lockhart!” Doppler was stood in the doorway.
“I wasn’t doing
anything!” I protested. She was giving me the look. “Honestly, I was making
arrangements with him.” She cocked an eyebrow. “To be lookout!” her expression
said she didn’t believe me. I looked to the bellboy, who stood familiarly
close. “Tell her.” I demanded.
“It is true
mademoiselle. However, should you be
“Out!” said Doppler,
stepping aside and pointing. He left.
After a speedy change
of clothing. Doppler and I headed over to the café. I loitered outside whilst
Doppler did a quick recce.
“I can’t see
Hotchkiss, but the mark is still there.” She said as she exited.
This worried me just a
little. Hotchkiss would be around somewhere, I didn’t like the thought of him
possibly watching us. I would feel more comfortable knowing where he was. The
door to the café suddenly swung open and out strode the mark. Doppler and I turned
to chat face to face. He had the brown case tucked under his arm as he made his
way, quickly along the avenue between trams and pedestrians and carriages.
“Keep a lookout for
the butler.” I said to Doppler. She didn’t really need to be warned.
He was moving pretty
quickly. We had no need to hide as the man was clearly oblivious to the fact he
was being followed. I didn’t know the town of Marseilles, so made note of
various points of interest or landmarks as we moved. He stopped on a corner,
pulled a scrap of paper from his pocket, looked about then continued. It seems
he did not know the area either. Eventually he stopped before a rather smart
hotel on the sea front, D’hôtel Napoleon. The lobby was all shining marble and
gleaming bronze, potted ferns and pillars. The mark was not its usual
clientele. We sauntered in. Doppler hung about the ferns whilst I approached
the reception and stood behind the mark, listening. I got his room number; that
he did not want to be disturbed unless a certain Monsieur Charlot called. As he
had no luggage, he went directly to his room.
welcome to D’hôtel Napoleon.”
“Hi.” I smiled. “I
would like a room for a couple of nights, if that is alright. A double, for
myself and my niece.” Doppler had come to stand beside me. “Our luggage will be
arriving shortly.” I explained.
Room booked, we made
our way up and then found the room that the mark occupied. At this point, we
still had no idea what we were going to find in the attaché case, it would be
like a Lucky Dip. Quite exciting. It would have to be tonight. We decided to
spend the day in the hotel, keeping an eye on things. Doppler hung about the
corridors nearby the marks room. I sat in the lounge come foyer, sipping tea
and leafing through newspapers.
“You are losing your
touch Miss Lucy.” A suave voice said. Oh crap. I thought. I fixed my face and
“Rene! How delightful
to see you.” I smiled my respectable smile. I indicated the seat opposite. He
sat. Rene de Cavellier smoothed his cream linen pants, adjusted his moustaches
and smiled at me. He was practically grinning.
“So, what brings you
here?” I said. I chided myself inwardly.
“Oh, you know, the
usual.” He continued smiling. God he was handsome. And irritating. But terribly
alluring. I attempted to pull my mind into focus.
“It’s my first time.
In Marseilles I mean. It is quite lovely isn’t it?” I smiled back. I was going
for innocent, but I knew that he knew I wasn’t. Ever.
He leant forwards
suddenly, “Lucy, ma cher.” I leant closer too. I couldn’t help myself. He took
both my hands in his. “It has been too long.” I tried to remember when we had
last, met. Lady Celia Fox’s, after
the Vatican incident. “You look lovely as ever.” He purred. His delightful
French accent went straight to my libido. He kissed the backs of both my hands.
“I have missed you. Why do we not find a room and…” he let the question trail
off and hang in the air.
“Oh Rene, any other
time and you know I wouldn’t refuse.” I replied. Dammit!
“Ah, there are always
other times ma cher, of course. But I must advise you against what you are
planning. Yes, I know that you and your little accomplice have followed the
attaché here. This is mine Lucy and I do not want anyone, and I mean, anyone, getting in my way. Adorable as
you are with your green eyes and your vivacity, your joie de vivre, I cannot
allow you to interfere – not again.”
I had been staring
into his handsome eyes. Me and my foolish desires. As I went to sit back, I
discovered my left hand immobilized. Rene sat back smiling. He had somehow
handcuffed me to the arm of my chair.
“Cavellier!” I hissed.
“What are you doing?” I rattled the cuffs.
De Cavellier stood.
“My insurance madam. No doubt you will get free quickly, but for now.” He made
a slight bow. “I bid you adieu.”
“Cavellier!” I called
as he walked away. “Rene! You bastard!”
There were sharp intakes of breath around me.
Waiters stopped waiting, receptionists stopped receiving. I fiddled in my hair
and pulled a pin loose. By the time I had freed myself, Rene de Cavellier was long
gone. I ran for the stairs, the elevator being up on the fourth floor, and
began to race for the second floor. I snuck out onto the corridor, peering
around corners. No-one there. No sign of Doppler. I slunk along the walls,
listening for any unusual sounds. At the door of the mark with the attaché
case, I listened. Someone was moving around. I ran on tip-toe to my room,
retrieved my pistol and returned. The door was not locked and the scene inside
startled me. Two figures were tied back to back, mouths gagged. They were
shuffling around trying to loose the cords. In the process, chairs had been
knocked over, rugs rucked and so forth. I ran over and pulled one of the gags
Doppler. “Where were you? Cavellier and his butler came.”
I looked at the mark
whom she was tied to.
“Untie me!” Doppler
“Unfortunately, if I
untie you, I untie him too.” They both glared at me. I wasn’t sure who was the
getting away! He had the rubies for a Monsieur Charlot. Supposed to be meeting
him here today. Lockhart!” The mark snarled as Doppler gave away his employers
“Sorry old bean.” I
said to the man. His eyes widened as he saw the gun. I turned it round and
struck him sharply with the handle. He slumped. After freeing Doppler, I retied
the fellow who had so recently been relieved of his goods. Doppler and I raced
to the reception.
“I say, could you tell
me if a Monsieur Charlot has arrived. It’s terribly important.”
looked at me a little dubiously. He ran a finger along the lists of names in
the huge book before him.
“Is Monsieur a guest?”
I didn’t know. He
could simply be arriving to meet with the chap upstairs. I decided that as he
had not found the name in his ledger, then in all likelihood, he was not.
“Just visiting.” I
said. “Could you put a call out for him?”
called over a man stood by the elevators. Gave him the name and then sent him
off around the lobby.
“What are you doing
Lockhart?” hissed Doppler.
“I don’t know. I’m
making it up as I go along.”
We stood watching as
the valet assistant walked about calling out the name. No-one responded openly,
but a small chap in the far corner did peek over his paper looking furtive.
“There is no-one here
of that name madam.” Said the valet on returning. I thanked him and tipped him.
Doppler followed me to
where the small chap sat. “Bonjoir Monsieur Charlot.” I said, flopping into the
gilt chair next to him.
Charlot stiffened. His
faced pinked. “Excuse me madam, I do not know this Monsieur Charlot that you
mention. I think you have made a mistake.” He shook his newspaper and held it
up before his face. He looked like a clerk.
“He hasn’t got the
goods anymore Charlie.” I said.
The paper slowly
lowered. I smiled broadly. “You should have met him sooner.” I said.
“What…what do you know
of my affairs? Who are you?” He had regained some dignity. “And how dare you –“
“Listen Charlie. If
you want your goods back we need to act quickly. We can help.” He looked
dubious, “For a fee of course.”
Monsieur Charlot said
the attaché case contained rubies. Whose rubies and where they came from, he
would not say. He agreed to our assistance, for a fee, and therefore supplied
us with a carriage and driver. Monsieur Heureux (Happy) looked anything but. He
had a face like a love sick mule. I asked the doorman if he had noticed two
gentlemen of such and such description. He had and he was able to tell us that
they had taken a Berlin style carriage. For a few francs he told us it was
quite distinctive; cream and black in colour, with a cream leather and silk
interior. I was impressed, for another few francs pressed into his palm he was
able to remember that the gentlemen had mentioned Saint Tropez.
hastily packing our belongings from our first hotel, we headed off with
Monsieur Charlot’s driver. I’m sure this carriage wasn’t half as fine as de
Cavellier’s, but it was quick. Heureux, understanding that his employer would
generously reward him if he could stop the thieves, had the horses moving at a
brisk pace. Doppler and I were rocked and rolled about amongst our luggage.
I knew that de
Cavellier had about twenty or so minutes on us, we had to close that distance
before he made other plans, or took an alternate route. Heureux seemed to be
enjoying our discomfiture, for every time we took a bend and yelled at being
squashed by a trunk, he seemed to spur the horses more.
yelled Doppler over the grinding wheels, the horses hooves and Heureux’s
“Hang on, shouldn’t be
much longer. Got your equipment ready?” I rocked madly from left to right
buttock as I began loading my pistols.
Just as I was
beginning to feel a kind of nauseous, sea-sick sensation, Heureux called out
excitedly, “Je les vois! Je les vois!” I
I stuck my head out of
the window. Up ahead was the lovely cream and black Berliner. Hotchkiss was
driving, so, unless de Cavellier had brought along some thugs, it would be two
against two. Hotchkiss evidently knew we were on his tail, I could see the
driving whip lashing back and forth, they sped up.
“Can you pass them?” I
shouted to Heureux.
“Can you get closer
I was thrust back into
my seat as Heureux gave the horses a series of quick, short strikes. I looked
at Doppler, she was grinning.
“What?” I asked.
“I’ve never been in a
cab chase before.” She said, “It’s exciting isn’t it?”
“So long as you can
keep you balance, you’ll be fine.”
She wiggled her
fingers at me. She was wearing her ‘spider gloves’. Able to climb pretty much
any surface, I wasn’t sure about their grip on a moving vehicle. I looked out
of the window again, we were so very close now. De Cavelliers face appeared, he
was pointing a weapon at us. A shot rang out, Heureux shrieked, ducking.
Missed! He was aiming for our wheels, de Cavellier wouldn’t shoot the horses,
would he? I didn’t know. I knew de Cavellier was a horseman – but I also knew
the French ate horsemeat and so didn’t have a proper caring attitude towards the
beasts, not like the British.
“Cover me!” I called
She leant out of her
side, straining against the oscillation of the carriage. As she fired and both
de Cavellier and the bludger ducked, I scrambled out of the madly flapping
door. Clinging onto the frame, stretching across the front quarter and grasping
hold of the seat irons, I came up beside Heureux. He briefly glanced sideways
at me. Wild-eyed, cheeks flushed, his dour mule face looked like a donkey on
amphetamines. I couldn’t tell if he were scared or exultant. I gave him
directions, pointing at the Berliner. He seemed shocked, doubtful, but I
insisted. He manoeuvred the horses forwards until his right leader was close by
the rear, left hand side of de Cavelliers carriage. Meanwhile, I clambered down
onto one of the horses. Without stirrups, I was clenching with my thighs for
all I was worth, (I take a pride in the strength of my thigh muscles). After a
few near misses, I caught hold of the carriage, rose to a standing position on
the rear mudguard and caught hold of the rail on the roof. Hotchkiss glanced over his shoulder, pulled a
weapon free and fired. The rail next to my fingers sparked and sang. Doppler
fired back. I saw she was crouched on the roof of our cab, one hand flat,
presumably her gloves adhering to the surface. She pointed and fired again.
“Watch it!” I shouted.
I wrenched open the
door and flung myself inside. Tumbling at de Cavelliers feet in an extremely
ungainly fashion. I looked up into the barrel of his gun.
“Good afternoon Lucy.”
He smiled. But he kept the gun trained on me.
I got myself
straightened out and sat on the seat opposite.
“Hello Rene.” I looked
around the plush interior. “Very nice.” I rubbed my hand over the cream leather
seat. “Comfortable too.” I looked up through my lashes, going for sultry. He
kept smiling. “Look, you’re not going to shoot me Rene. We both know that, so
why don’t you put your little gun away,” I patted the leather, “And come and
get cosy.” The suspension was amazing, compared to the thing Doppler and I had
travelled in, de Cavellier and I gentle bobbed up and down as the carriage
continued its crazy dash. He didn’t lower his weapon, so I raised mine. But not
at de Cavellier. I pointed it at a careless angle over my shoulder.
“If you’re not going
to behave, I shall have to put a bullet in your devoted Hotchkiss. Oh, I agree,
I may miss. But consider this; the bullet will certainly pass through your
beautiful woodwork and satin. Splinters of wood will strike your bludger in the
rear at best. The bullet may even hit home, either way, he will most certainly
lose control of the horses and then where will we be? Hurtling off the road?
Crashing into a tree? Rolling down a ravine?”
“There are no ravines
here.” He said, he was still self-possessed, but he’d lost the smile.
“Whatever. You know it
won’t end nicely.”
“And you are prepared
to risk that? You will fall too Lucy, you will collide as I collide.”
I smiled happily,
keeping him chatting. “Then we shall collide together, ma cher.” I smiled. “Ah,
Rene, here we are again. We have had some wonderful times, have we not? That
glorious weekend at Lady Celia’s, remember?” The right side of his mouth curved
at the memory. “We should team up. Become comrades in the hunt. Imagine it
Rene, what a marvellous partnership, you, me, plundering the known world for
its treasures.” I leant forwards slightly and breathed his name. He leant forwards
“Oh Lucy, if only I
could trust you.”
I reached up with my
free hand and gently caressed his face. I looked into his eyes. “Kiss me Rene.”
I raised my chin to reveal my white neck.
Rene leant closer, our lips met. I breathed in
his cologne and aroma of French masculinity. I sighed as our lips met. Then hit
him with the butt of my gun, hard enough, but not too much. De Cavellier fell
face first into my lap. I stroked his hair as he lay there. Then pushing him
away so he lay across his own seat. I searched the floor of the carriage and
found what I was after. The security box. After rummaging in his waistcoat
pockets and relieving him of the tiny key. I made a withdrawal from the Banque de Cavellier. As the carriage
continued its bouncing course, I pocketed the items. I returned the box and the
key then made my retreat. I waved at Doppler and Heureux.
Our carriage began to
drop back, to Hotchkiss it would look like they were losing speed. I kept an
eye on the fields and hedgerows we passed. At an opportune moment, I flung
myself from de Cavelliers carriage, curling myself into a foetal ball. I went
crashing into shrubbery, my left thigh hit something hard as I rolled. I scrunched
tighter. I seemed to be rolling down a slight incline, my breath being pounded
out of me. I hit something else, it went crack
and I stopped. I opened my eyes; I was covered in a tangle of greenery. I could
hear Doppler calling, getting nearer. Her voice vibrating as she ran.
“Lockhart!” She knelt
beside me. “Are you alright? Can you sit up?” She was pulling foliage from me.
As I sat upright, my
head spun a little. My leg hurt, my shoulders ached. I had clenched my jaw
tight and now massaged it. It felt as though I’d been punched. Then I reached
awkwardly into the inner pocket of my coat, triumphantly revealing the soft
leather pouch that made a pleasant sound when I shook it. I staggered to my
feet to look around. We were in a vineyard.
Now, Heureux was
expecting to return us to Marseilles, to his waiting employer, Monsieur Charlot.
But I had no intention of returning the cache to Charlie. So we devised another
trip for Heureux. Doppler administered one of her home brew compounds. And
whilst Doppler drove the carriage on to Cannes, I carefully stored the rubies
in half a dozen of the bottles of Pinot Noir; resealing the bottles with melted
sealing wax. The stones were the most delicious, deep red; most being the size
of the juicy, edible seeds of the pomegranate. Oval cut with a good finish,
probably worth in the region of, well, enough. There were twelve of them. All the
while I worked on this, Heureux, on the opposite seat gabbled about purple
clouds and plucked at the air before him. As night drew on, he swore he could
see the dark side of the moon.
Eventually we arrived
in Cannes. A telegram was sent to Monsieur Charlot, explaining that,
unfortunately, we had been unsuccessful in our task. Heureux recovered, with
little memory of the actual events, just a jumble of images of gun fire,
galloping horses, a white rabbit and myself dressed as a Joker from a pack of
cards. He returned to Charlot empty handed, but with a new and expanded view on
We rented an old 18th
century villa opposite the sea, Vélès Plage was on a slight rise surrounded by
palms and slightly unruly gardens. I was considering buying it. Our residence
was ransacked on four occasions during our six week stay. We did not see Rene
de Cavellier or his butler around the town – but we knew it was them. They never
found a thing.
By the time we returned
to our home in Lancashire, the crate of Pinot Noir had been gathering dust in
the cellar for quite some time.