Friday, November 4, 2016

Friday Fiction: Vol 6: City Tales, Book IV: The Case of the Curia Crimes - Ch 5

Chapter 5: Tavern Brevage Noir

Norbert and Gaston remained[i] at the Hôtel-Dieu to guard the mortally injured Brian Chastel, who was clinging to life under the care of Guy’s servant, Fabré and under the watchful eye of a pair of the Archbishop’s guards.

Guy’s and Signoret’s search of Brian Chastel’s townhouse failed to turn up any clues. Therefore Guy decided to impersonate Chastel and attend the meeting at the Brevage Noir to see what he can learn from the blackmailer. While Guy and Signoret headed directly to the tavern, Guy sent Le Serpent to the Hôtel-Dieu to summon Gaston and Norbert to meet the two cousins at the Brevage Noir.

On the way to the tavern, Guy and Signoret encountered one of the city’s less amusing customs – an emptied chamber pot. Guy managed to duck aside, but Father Signoret zigged when he should have zagged and was messily doused. Fastidiously he stopped at a nearby horse trough and used the frigid water to clean his hat and cloak as best he could.

As the two cousins reached the Tavern Brevage Noir, they heard the sound of the distant bells of La Temple sounding midnight. Although they were late, the two cousins took an extra moment to enter separately. Father Signoret entered first and took a seat at the empty table near the door. Guy followed after and headed towards the bar. On his way he noticed an empty seat at a table in the corner, which by chance was the table where La Buse awaited Chastel’s arrival. Guy tried to squeeze past a thuggish bruiser who stood and put a hand out to stop Guy. “Take off. This seat’s taken.”

“You fool, Charles! This is the man we have been waiting for. Let him pass,” said the man in the corner seat who, Guy noticed, had a heavy brow, a beak-like nose, and beady eyes.

Could this be La Buse? Guy wondered. Then the man looked at Guy and scowled. His face a mask of suppressed fury as he said, “You’re late.”

Why Le Serpent was right, he does look like he’s ready to stab someone. And yes, one…two…three large bodyguards which with little Charles here, makes four. This can only be La Buse. Guy said, “I ran into a little trouble on the way here.”

“Trouble? What sort of trouble?” asked La Buse.

“I was attacked. But I don’t suppose you’ll be wanting to hear about that. So how are you this evening?” Guy said with a somewhat flippant air.

“How am I? I am impatient. I want my money.”

“Let me buy you a drink to calm your nerves.”

“God’s Blood I don’t want a damn drink I want the money. I gave you 48 hours. The time is up and past up.”

“Or else what?” asked Guy.

“Or else what!? Or else all of Paris will know your dirty little secret.”

“Yes, my secret. It has weighed on my mind of late. In fact, I’ve been thinking about making a clean breast of things. Confessing my sins, asking forgiveness, doing penance.”

La Buse was speechless.[ii] This was a turn of events that he had never even considered.

“That should take care of things don’t you think?” Guy asked in a seemingly innocent tone of voice. “And after I have confessed you may reveal what you wish.”

“Take care of things!” La Buse cried. “That takes care of nothing. Do you forget that you are a damned murderer! You are a foul fiend who killed his own wife and son. Do you think a simple penance will help you, you swine? And even if it does, why that may be all very well for you. But what about your family’s reputation, eh? What will that do to your brother the Curate and his precious career? Have you considered how your shame will affect him?”

“Yes, that is certainly something to consider,” Guy said. “Still, even if you don’t reveal anything there are others who are investigating. Why I’ve heard that Cardinal Richelieu himself may be interested in tales of a gang of blackmailers.” This comment rattled La Bous.[iii] “Besides, how can you prove that I did this thing you say I did?”

“Because there is a witness to what you did you poxed whoreson! Are you growing feeble-minded? We’ve been over all this already! Give me my money now or by noon tomorrow all Paris will know you are a murderer,” La Buse said.

“Well you see there is problem with that.” Guy said calmly. “You recall I said I was late because I was attacked on the way here. In the attack there was an…altercation, some confusion, and well, the upshot is that I no longer have all the money.”

“You don’t have all the money?” La Bous asked.

Guy continued, “But I have fifty livres. Here have that.”

La Buse leapt out of his chair and pounded the table with both hands as he loudly exclaimed, “Fifty livres! Fifty livres! That’s not the deal! I want my money! Give me my money! Give me all my money now or my men will gut you like a trout!”

“Well if that is your attitude I think it is time for me to go.” Suiting action to words Guy leapt onto the table in front of La Buse then jumped for the chandelier and swung across to land on top of the bar. Dodging drinks and patrons, he nimbly ran for the opposite end of the bar.

Meanwhile, La Buse shouted at his men, “Get him! Get him now, you damned fools!”

After sitting down, Father Signoret realized that the crowd around the cockfighting pit was blocking his view of his cousin Guy. So the Jesuit quietly got up and switched seats to an empty table in the center of the tavern and just outside of the crowd around the pit. From there he watched Guy speaking with a beak-nosed, scowling man guarded by several large bruisers. Whatever Guy is saying it does not seem be to the liking of that scowler. He looks positively murderous. During one of his periodic scans of the crowd, Signoret noticed Gaston and Norbert enter. The two paused briefly, then Gaston headed towards the right of the cock fighting pit while Norbert headed in Father Signoret’s general direction.

As soon as Gaston and Norbert entered the Tavern Brevage Noir. Gaston spotted Signoret sitting at a table in the center of the tavern and then he saw his brother-in-law Claude de Fleury in the eager crowd of gamblers by the cockfighting pit. He said, “Nom de Dieu, what is Claude doing here?”

Norbert immediately thought he meant Father Signoret’s servant. Norbert looked around and not seeing him, he said “Where?”

Gaston said, “In the crowd on the right of the cockfighting pit.”

Norbert looked again and said, “I still can’t see him cousin. Say, do you think Father Signoret knows that Claude is here?”

“Why should the Father know or even care if my brother-in-law is here?”

“Your brother-in-law?”

“Yes, Claude de Fleury, my brother-in-law. You’ve met him. He is married to Marie, your cousin and my sister.”

“Oh. Sorry. I thought you meant Signoret’s Claude.”

Gaston shook his head ruefully “Look Norbert, I need to talk to Claude. Signoret is over at that table in the middle of the room. You go there and I’ll catch up with you later.”

Following his instructions, Norbert headed to the center of the room. Signoret spotted the giant and signaled him over using the secret hand sign they had each learned from Guy. As he arrived, Norbert acted as if he didn’t know Signoret and said, “Monsiuer, do you mind if I, a stranger to you, sit here at your table?”

“Not at all,” said Signoret and Norbert moved to take a seat at the table, but as he did so he inadvertently lumbered into a drinker sitting at a neighboring table. The drinker accosted Norbert who tried to reason with him so as to settle things peaceably, but he failed, in part because the drinker’s six fellows egged him on to stand up to the giant. Two of them rose up in support but Norbert pushed them back into their seats and again tried to resolve things peacefully he offered to buy the fellow a drink. In response two more drinkers charged him. He held them off at arm’s length, then grabbed them by their shirt fronts and used his signature move to crack their heads together.

Several of the brawlers then leapt up and grappled with Norbert but he broke free and shoved them back. Then four of the them leapt on Norbert. They grabbed him and held him in place while the burly drinker who had started the brawl repeatedly punched[iv] Norbert in his stomach.

In the background, behind the struggling Norbert, Guy landed on the bar top. Spotting Guy on top of the bar, Signoret asked himself. “Now what is Guy doing?” Well, Norbert seems well able to handle these four or five fellows. Signoret stood up and walked calmly towards the bar as he thought, Those thugs are after Guy. I’d better see if he needs my help.

Having spotted his brother-in-law amongst the gamblers clustered round the cock-fighting pit, Gaston circled the pit pushing his way through the crowd so he could reach Claude de Fleury, Once there, Gaston interrogated Claude who explained that he was here to accumulate a nest egg for a new opportunity. Gaston was concerned that Claude would gamble away the household money and that he might be caught in any trouble that might occur. After all, Guy and Norbert together have a genius for finding trouble. Vainly, Gaston tried to persuade Claude to leave. But Claude explained that he had “a new system, a sure fire thing” and he refused to leave before it paid off.

Gaston threw up his hands in resignation. “Devil take that man,” he said to himself as he moved towards the bar. “I can’t see what Marie sees in him. He has no more willpower or common sense than a sparrow where wagers are concerned.”

Ahead of him, Father Signoret walked towards the bar, on top of which ran Guy. Several large thuggish men jumped up from a table to Gaston’s right and ran towards Guy. Four bruisers is too many for our little Guy. Let’s see if I can slow this one down. And as one muscular thug ran by, Gaston stuck out his foot and tripped him. “That’s one.”

One of the thugs tried to imitate Guy by leaping up onto the bar, but he failed to keep his footing. He slipped and fell off the bar top crashing to the floor inside of the bar. Annoyed at the unwarranted encroachment of his space, Andre the huge bartender used a bung-starter to knock the thug unconscious. “That’s two,” Gaston said.

As he reached the bar, Father Signoret shoved two bar patrons into another of the thugs. This entangled the thug in an altercation with one of the patrons. “And that’s three.” Gaston continued his count. “Well, Guy should be able to handle the fourth one by himself.”

One of the bar patrons who had been shoved by Signoret turned towards the thug in anger and confusion, but the thug glared at him and said menacingly, “Do you want to tangle with the Buzzards? Do you want to be gutted like a trout. Well do ya?” The patron held his hands up in a gesture of placation and backed off. Meanwhile the other patron decided that it was Signoret who had caused the altercation. He swung at Signoret who ducked out of the way and then the angry man, knocking him unconscious.

As the last bruiser moved closer, Guy swung on another chandelier from the bar over towards the great wine barrels against the far wall. Once there, he took to his heels.

Ahead he saw a young blonde girl sitting at a quiet table as if she were waiting for someone. And not so patiently either, Guy observed as he noticed her fingers drumming on the table top. As he reached her he noticed her gamin features and her boy like attire. As he stepped up to her, Guy said, “Excusez-moi, Mademoiselle.” He then paused to kiss her hand before he vaulted onto her table and swung away on yet another chandelier.

Thoughtfully, the girl watched Guy’s departure. The immediate arrival of a large bruiser jarred her from her pleasant reverie. In response to Guy’s courtesy, she kicked a chair in front of the bruiser. This tripped him and gave the dashing Guy plenty of time to escape.

The pummeling that Norbert received only seemed to anger the giant. Exerting his strength, he broke free of the four men holding him. Grabbing a chair by one leg he used it as giant flail to bludgeon away four of his opponents, including the drinker who had started all the trouble, with one enormous swipe. The angry giant glared at the last man, who noticed that he was alone; all his friends had fallen. Deciding discretion was the better better part of valor, he took to his heels leaving Norbert the victor. The giant looked around the room wondering, “Now where have my friends all gone?”

The remaining bruisers scattered about the tavern disentangled themselves or picked themselves up and hurried after Guy, who they saw exit out the door of the Brevage Noir. Signoret walked quickly away from the bar after them.

Meanwhile Gaston, who had circled back around the cockfighting pit, saw three bruisers running after Guy. He moved towards the Masked Lady’s table and said, “Pardon Mademoiselle” as he snatched the chair out from under her and slung it across the tavern to trip all three of the bruisers chasing after Guy. Signoret took advantage of the opportunity. He vaulted over the fallen bruisers and ran after Guy. Behind the Jesuit, Norbert headed towards the bruisers.

Gaston noticed that his yanking the chair from beneath the Masked Lady had caused her mask to slip exposing her features. This seemed to anger her companion, a young man dressed in flamboyant but vulgar attire. The young man ordered the third person at the table, evidently the young man’s bodyguard, “Gautier, teach this dog a lesson in manners.” As the bodyguard stood up, behind him Gaston noticed the three thugs regain their feet as they prepared to run after Signoret – and Guy no doubt, thought Gaston.

Taking advantage of the bodyguard’s motion, Gaston said, “Merci, Monsieur” as he grabbed the bodyguard’s chair and tossed it at the three bruisers which tripped them once again. This gave both Guy and Signoret time to exit the tavern. “Good luck, my friends,” Gaston said quietly to himself. He turned back towards the Gautier, the bodyguard. Behind the both of them, Norbert hurried towards the exit after Father Signoret.

As Signoret reached the door, he heard a whirring sound behind him. Instinctively he ducked aside as an axe head imbedded itself in the door. Turning he saw a short, muscular woman with a crooked toothed smile and another axe in her hand. “Who is that?” he wondered. Quickly he ducked outside the door before she could throw another axe.

Norbert saw the woman throw the axe then stop to berate the fallen bruisers and to help them back up. Taking advantage of their distraction, he also ducked out the door.

Meanwhile, Gautier had drawn his broadsword. He confronted Gaston, who attempted to use his reputation as a a deadly duelist to avoid a quarrel with a stranger. He said, “I am Gaston Thibeault, master of the blade. But I do not know you Monsieur. Pray tell me your name so I that I may know for whose soul I should have a mass said.”

The bodyguard, a professional with the might of his patron behind him, was not intimidated despite Gaston’s fierce reputation. He refused to back down. “My name is Gautier,” he said. “En garde!”

They engaged. Gaston quickly attempted to bind Gautier’s sword, but instead, Gautier caught Gaston in a bind putting him at a serious disadvantage. Gautier then tried to knock Gaston’s blade away, but the wily Gaston evaded the move and, with a twist of his left wrist, he used his vizcaina to disarm Gautier. Gaston gravely said, “Monsieur, I suggest you do not pick up your sword.” Gautier looked into Gaston’s cold green eyes and saw death staring back at him. Gautier was intimidated. Despite the protests of his employer, he refused to pick up his blade conceding the duel. “A wise move, Monsieur,” Gaston said calmly.

“You dog! Do you know who I am?” the employer demanded of Gaston who gazed impassively back at him. “I am Jean-Marc D’Anvers” he said with a note of self-satisfaction.

Slowly, Gaston turned towards D’Anvers, “Monsieur D’Anvers, if you wish to draw your blade, I will happily kill you.” His icy stare caused[v] D’Anvers to stumble backwards in fear.

“Don’t kill me! Please don’t kill me!” D’Anvers said.

“Coward.” Gaston spat in contempt as he turned his back on D’Anvers. As he looked over for his brother-in-law he saw that Claude had won his bet. “Even a stopped clock occasionally tells the right time,” he commented. It looks like Claude doesn’t need my protection after all. I can leave him to his own devices. Best I check on Guy then. And he walked out of the tavern after his friends.

As Signoret stepped into the darkness outside the Tavern Brevage Noir, he looked about for his cousin Guy. He saw nothing, but a quick whisper drew him towards his cousin, who was hidden in the shadows. Quickly, Guy drew Signoret with him into the concealing darkness. Soon they saw Norbert exit the tavern. Realizing that the giant was far too large to be concealed, they remained silent as Norbert looked about, called for them, then shrugged and headed for home.

Immediately afterwards, three bruisers and the axe wielding woman exited the tavern. The two cousins listened to them as they argued about what to do next. Eventually they decided that their boss, La Buse, would be angry unless they could find “Chastel” so, even though they had no idea where to look, they separated to search.

Shortly after the gang members set out. Gaston stepped out of the tavern. He looked around for his friends or any sign of trouble, but he saw neither, so he stopped and pondered the situation. If my friends got away, well enough I can have a drink here at the tavern before I go and find them. If they have been captured, well then that scowler who seems to be in charge of the brutes is still inside and no doubt his men will bring any prisoners back here. In which case, I will free them. Decision made, Gaston went back inside the Brevage Noir. So I wait... and I drink. Fortunately his Eminence is a prompt and generous paymaster.

While he waited and drank, Gaston saw Andre the bartender toss a bucket of water onto the unconscious bruiser who roused and slowly made his way over to the scowler. No doubt the scowler is La Buse, Gaston thought. The bruiser clutched his head and groaned in pain, until the La Buse swore at him and ordered him “to shut up or I’ll gut you like a trout.” In the relative silence, La Buse morosely stared into his drink. Taking advantage of the gang leader’s distraction, Gaston moved closer to La Buse. After a still longer time, the rest of the gang returned. No Guy. No Signoret. No Norbert. Good. Then my friends were not caught. Now I too will stare into my drink and I will keep my ears open.

Gaston, overheard La Buse tell his gang that they were to escort him back to the Buzzard’s Nest then he would have word sent out that he was looking for Brian Chastel. “I’ll put a price on his damn head. I want that whoreson brought to me alive so that I can treat him as he deserves. Play with me will he. By the devil I’ll use a dull knife to gut him and then send the pieces to his cursed brother. Jeannie, you stay at the Nest and make sure Pierre stays put. If Brian Chastel won’t pay, maybe his brother the the Curate will.”

“OK chief,” the short, scarred woman with the crooked-toothed smile said. Then she stared absently until La Buse spoke again.

“All right you poxy whoresons!” La Buse ordered. “It’s back to the Buzzards Nest and keep a sharp eye out for trouble.”

Meanwhile, in the shadows outside of the tavern, Signoret whispered a question to Guy, “Why didn’t we try to contact Gaston when he came out?”

“Now that they are out, one of those brigands may be watching the door and would notice if Gaston acted suspiciously, and our friend Gaston is seldom subtle,” Guy answered. “Let’s wait a while longer and see what happens. Besides I may want to follow La Buse to see where the Buzzard roosts.”

“If we can get Brian Chastel to talk, we don’t need to follow these criminals about,” Signoret said. “Why don’t I go back to the Hôtel-Dieu and see if he has regained consciousness and is ready to talk. If he is, I will return for you or send word.”

Guy agreed to the Jesuit’s plan, but said “Before you go, lend me your hat. It will be easier for me to follow La Buse if he doesn’t recognize me as Brian Chastel.” Signoret passed over his hat, turned up his collar against the cold, then set out for the Hôtel-Dieu.

After a long and cold wait La Buse’s Buzzards returned to the Tavern Brevage Noir. “And what a surprise, they didn’t find Brian Chastel,” Guy chuckled to himself.

The axe-wielding woman led the three bruisers back into the tavern. By the light of the lantern near the door, Guy could see that she had a crooked-toothed smile and a vacant stare. After a time the four exited again accompanied by La Buse and the fourth bruiser, who was partially supported by one of his fellows and who periodically clutched his head in pain. They set off in a group. As Guy prepared to follow, he spotted Gaston exiting the tavern. He called him over and quickly filled him in on the plan.

Guy and Gaston followed La Bous and his guards. Guy was in the lead to tail La Buse with Gaston far enough behind so as not to risk his being spotted, but close enough to help if help was needed. They followed La Bous to his gang’s hideout, an abandoned family hôtel of some marquis or comte who must have fallen on hard times. “Now we know where the Buzzard lives,” Guy said.

As the two returned to the Hotel-Dieu, Gaston told Guy what he had overheard.

[i] Late night on December 4, 1623.
[ii] Loss of 1 Composure; 2 Composure remaining.
[iii] Loss of 1 Composure; 1 Composure remaining. La Buse is losing control and caution. He will give away something he would prefer to keep secret.
[iv] Causing loss of 2 Lifeblood after Tough Skin.
[v] Gaston rolls an 11 and spend a FP to get a Mighty Success. Jean-Marc D’Anvers will be at a -1 composure vs. Gaston until he can somehow remove his fear.

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