Friday, March 3, 2017

Fiction Friday: Vol 7 Tales of Vengeance, Bk V: Spycraft, Ch 1

Volume 7 Tales of Vengeance

Book V: Spycraft

Chapter 1: Address and Cypher

April 1-2, 1624 (10OCT2015)
When Father Signoret arrived in the Provincial Father’s office, he saw that Cellotius was accompanied by Père Noir, France’s Jesuit spy-master. The mysterious black hooded priest began without preamble.
“Although the Prince de Condé was raised Catholic, his father was one of the greatest leaders among the Huguenots since Admiral Coligny. Only Henry IV, before God granted him the grace to return to the Holy Mother Church, was greater. Now the son, despite, so far as we know being a good Catholic in most ways, is one of the foremost advocates for war with the Hapsburgs and with Spain in particular. Warfare between the two mightiest Catholic Kingdoms does not serve the interest of the Church or the interests of our Holy Father, Pope Urban VIII. Therefore the Society of Jesus works tirelessly to avoid the occurrence of such a dire event. The Prince is second in line to the throne and he is influential amongst the other grands and popular amongst the noblesse d'épée. And since that most unfortunate incident in the theatre, his faction has grown in size and influence. This new support could tip the balance in the Royal Council in favor of war with Spain. This must not happen.
“Should an opportunity arise to, shall we say, lessen the Prince of Condé’s influence, then we can only assume that this is an expression of the Divine Will and something that is in the interests of the Society of Jesus. I trust I make myself clear, Father.”
“Yes your reverence,” Signoret replied.
“Then you may go.”

Guy was summoned to the country château of his patron the mysterious Duke DeMainz. Guy sipped the excellent brandy provided by Pendu, the Duke’s mute servant as he gave the Duke an update on his recent activities. He always found it slightly unsettling to speak to the motionless mask that the Duke wore. One never can tell his reaction to anything said. He mentioned de Branville’s attempt to kidnap the demoiselle Louise Deville and the kidnapping and rescue of the nieces of the Captain of the Cardinal’s Guard and the resulting death of the Baron de Villemorin.
Hearing of Villemorin’s death, the Duke reminded Guy that the public attack by Guy’s cousin Father Signoret on the Baron at the theater had incensed the noblesse d'épée. The fact that Signoret was a Jesuit Priest brought back the rumors that the Jesuits had been responsible for the assassination of good King Henri. This had led some nobles to join Condé’s faction increasing the Prince’s influence and his standing at court. The Duke saw this as a danger since Condé was second in line to the throne and he was ambitious. To counteract this, he told Guy to find some way to lessen Condé’s standing and influence. In addition to this, he told Guy there was a more immediate danger.
The Duke told Guy of the existence of a paper that threatens the King and that could put the Prince de Condé on the throne of France. The paper is a written contract of marriage between the King’s father, Henri IV, and the father of Catherine Henriette d'Entragues, Marquise de Verneuil for a marriage between the King and the Catherine. That contract predates Henri’s marriage to the Queen Mother, Marie de Medici. Had the marriage with Catherine occurred, her bastard son Gaston Henri, the Marquis de Verneuil would have been the legitimate king of France.
The Duke told Guy that Condé was seeking this document, possibly to undermine the legitimacy of King Louis perhaps to replace him with the Marquise de Verneuil or that Condé had aspirations to the throne himself. The Duke said that the contract was most likely among the papers of the Duke de Sully, old King Henri’s favorite. He told Guy to steal the contract and bring it to him to keep it out of Condé’s hands.
After he returned to Paris, Guy began inquiries about the Duke de Sully. He arranged to meet with his friend Chancie, otherwise known as the Vicomte de Chambré, and with Chancie’s cousin the Seigneur de Chambré. In the meantime, he assigned his agent, Le Serpent to watch the Duke in case Condé should make overtures to Sully.

Gaston stood in the office of Cardinal Armand de Richelieu and watched as the Cardinal ate a last few mouthfuls of his usual morning broth. It was still dark, but the room was brightly lit by wax candles. Despite the extremely early hour, Gaston was dressed and armed for he knew his master’s routine. Every day, the Cardinal rose at two in the morning, and was promptly surrounded by his secretaries. After his broth, he would work until six o’clock. Then perhaps he would allow himself one hour or two hours of additional sleep, before beginning the most challenging part of his day. It seemed the first thing he had done today on rising was to send for his captain. The Cardinal waved the rest of the bowl aside and ordered his secretaries out of the room. Only one man remained the Cardinal’s most trusted amenseunsis, Père Joseph. Richelieu spoke.
“An agent of the Superintendant of Finance, one Monsieur Marcel LeDroit, was found dead in an alleyway near the rue St. Antoine. M. LeDroit had been investigating certain financial irregularities for the Superintendant, but before he could conclude his investigation or to report any findings, he was murdered. The financial situation is important. France has debts from the most recent Religious War that most be repaid and His Majesty needs additional funds to assure the safety of the kingdom. Spain has used its control of the Valtelline to send troops along the Spanish Road to reinforce Spinola and the Army of Flanders. Should the Spanish turn towards us, France’s northeastern frontier is vulnerable. We need to reinforce the frontier and we need to retake the Valtelline to close the Spanish Road. But to do those things we require more soldiers and more soldiers always require more gold. LeDroit’s investigation may be crucial to finding the gold we need.
“Monsieur you have proved yourself to be both brave and resourceful. You are to unravel whatever mystery lies behind M. LeDroit’s murder. Find out why he was murdered and who was responsible. If there is a conspiracy behind this I want a list of who is involved and I want proof of their guilt. Anyone who is resourceful and powerful enough to successfully conspire against France will have the resources and power to defend himself in court. So for these traitors to be brought to punished, the proof must be ironclad, Monsieur le Capitan.
“And one more thing Captain, I want you to report your findings only to me.”
Père Joseph, spoke. “LeDroit’s body is in the basement of the Châtelet awaiting recovery by his family. You may want to start there. Here is an authorization from the Provost to allow you to view the body.
“And you may need this.” He held out a coin purse which contained fifty livres. “For expenses.”

Gaston arrived very early at Guy’s door in the Palais Royale. In answer to the soldier’s hammering, Fabre opened the door and Gaston said, “Where’s Guy?”
Fabré replied, “Master de Bourges is not available, sir.”
“But is he here Fabré?” with resignation the valet nodded yes.
Raising his voice to a sergeant’s parade ground roar, Gaston continued as he brushed past the valet. “Then I will just wait here! It is important that I see him right away! No, no! Don’t trouble yourself Fabré I’ll just wait here on the settee, by myself. If it gets too dull I may amuse myself by reciting some poetry.” As Fabré hurriedly whisked an elegant low table away before Gaston could rest his spurred boots on it, Gaston loudly began to whistle his favorite tune, “Vive le roi Henri.”
Eventually, as Gaston had known he would, Guy appeared. He was wearing a fancy silk dressing gown, but his hair was elegantly combed and waved. Gaston told Guy about his mission and asked for his help. Guy agreed, after all Gaston was his friend and one never knew when a favor from the Captain of the Cardinal’s Guard might be of assistance. Guy suggested they should also obtain the help of his cousin Father Signoret. Then he told Gaston that he had a previous appointment with the Seigneur de Chambré and suggested that perhaps Gaston and Father Signoret should accompany him to see the Seigneur. “That de Chambré seems like he might enjoy helping you solve your mystery.”
The four met at Guy’s club and the others agreed to assist Gaston. From de Chambré Guy learned that the Duke de Sully had a ne’er-do-well son Maximillian who might provide an opportunity and that the Duke had nearly finished building a new hôtel in Paris. The residence had almost reached a state where the Duke could move in, which would cause Sully to move his furniture and papers and provide a second opportunity to get the contract.

The four decided to examine the body. The Provost’s authorization dissolved all obstacles and soon the four companions stood in the cold cellars of the Châtelet where the bodies of unknown corpses awaited identification. The body of M. LeDroit had just started to decompose, but it was sufficiently putrefied to cause de de Chambré to turn green despite the heavily scented mouchon that he pressed to his face. Guy, prepared for this eventuality, had his own mouchon impregnated with a concoction of herbs prepared by Fabré to numb the nose and disguise even such a strong odor. Father Signoret, who had trained at the College of Physicans was familiar with such smells and Gaston, an veteran of both battles and sieges was used to far worse. M. LeDroit had been a man in his early thirties, tall, fairly muscular, and dressed as a gentleman. As Father Signoret examined the corpse to determine the cause of death, the others examined his belongings.
On a card lying beside the body was the name of the alleyway in the district of St. Antoine where the corpse had been found by a squad of the night watch led by a Paris Archer. De de Chambré found an unopened letter clutched in the body’s right hand. It was unopened, the seal, in the form of a dagger, was made of  bright red sealing wax, that looked like fresh blood against the off-white parchment. Guy stopped de de Chambré before he could open it. “I’d think we should keep the seal intact. Give it to me and I will open it later.” Guy also appropriated the bright bright red handkerchief hanging out of a left hand pocket.
In the right hand pocket of the long coat, Gaston found a wheellock pocket pistol that was loaded and primed with the spring coiled to fire. “Bad for the spring,” was all the soldier said.
Guy added, “He was expecting trouble.”
In the left hand pocket the coat, was a piece of paper several columns of letters. “This looks like an interesting puzzle,” the Seigneur de de Chambré said, his voice muffled by the mouchon he still clutched to his face.


Guy, glanced at the paper and said. “It seems to be a cipher. Perhaps a simple substitution cipher. I may know more once I open the letter.”
By this time, Signoret had finished examining the body, but he had found no marks of violence. “Perhaps he was poisoned,” the Jesuit hypothesized.
“Good thing I brought Fabré.”  Guy sent someone to bring his valet, who examined the body, paying particular attention to the mouth and nose.  Fabré said that he recognized the poison as “a fast-acting metal poison. It has a bitter taste so it was probably administered in something with a strong flavor that he drank. Perhaps a full-bodied red wine.”
As they left the Châtelet Gaston blew air out his nose and said, “Well, I think we’ve earned a drink.” This caused de de Chambré to suddenly bend over as he vomited the contents of his stomach.
“Your pardon,” he said politely as he fastidiously wiped his face with a second handkerchief.
They stopped at a nearby tavern where Guy insisted they have their drink in a private room and he insisted, despite the warm day, that a fire be laid in the room. After the fire was going and the tavern maid had left. Guy used the fire to heat a knife which he used to remove the wax seal from the letter without breaking it. The only writing inside was an address.
Rue St. Mihiel 32

De de Chambré said that Rue Saint Mihiel was next to the Hôtel de Montmorency. With that reminder, Gaston recalled that the street was the location of the Brothers De Vitoria Bank, for whom Gaston and Norbert had previously done some work. “There’s a small inn next to the bank…the ‘Bear and the Lion’.”
Guy recognized the name of the bank. During last year’s diplomatic mission to the Netherlands he had impersonated a clerk. Benedict LeVan, one of the other clerks, had worked for that bank. Guy had identified LeVan as a spy and an affiliate of the Red Brotherhood, a pro Spanish society that had tried to assassinate the Prince de Cröy and had been actively working against the mission in Amsterdam.
Next the group went to where the body had been found. This was an alley in the Saint Antoine district alley. The neighborhood of Saint Antoine was dominated by the massive bulk of the Bastille to the east and the alley itself wound between the buildings adjacent to the Church of Saint Paul. Since Fabré had said the poison was fast acting, they looked for someplace where he might have been given a drink. The nearest tavern, located less than a block away, was owned by the Black Cross Club. Though none of the four were members, Guy and de Chambré knew that the Black Cross was the oldest gentlemen’s club in Paris, founded nearly one hundred years ago by a group of Flemish merchants and wealthy merchants still dominated the club membership. “Not really our sort,” de Chambré commented quietly to Guy, who shrugged in reply.
“Why don’t you three ask the questions?” Guy said to the others. “I’ll slip in quietly before you to see what I can observe on my own.”
The entrance to the club was marked only with a brass plate that displayed a black Latin cross fleury, the symbol of the club, above the door. Inside they questioned the bartender who told them that Monsieur LeDroit had been at the club to meet with a member a Chevalier de Didonne. He had heard about LeDroit’s collapse and had saved the glasses that both had been drinking from. He was willing to provide him with the glasses…for a price. While Gaston was inclined to pay him with his life, de Chambré slid a few gold coins across the bar which prompted the bartender to immediately hand over the glasses without any fuss.
Father Signoret knew the Chevalier de Didonne who was a Knight of Malta. Brother Phillipe was an avid horsemen, a swordsman of some note, and a member of the Fratellanze di Giganti, a rival fencing school. Despite the rivalry, he and Signoret had a cordial relationship. Fabré examined the glasses and found that both glasses contained traces of the deadly, fast-acting metallic poison which had killed Monsieur LeDroit wine. Guy ordered Fabré to find an antidote to the poison. Father Signoret was now worried about the health of Brother Phillipe. He called at Brother Phillipe’s apartment, but the Knight of Malta wasn’t in. Signoret identified himself as a physician and questioned the servant about his master’s health and said that it was urgent that he see him. The servant said that he hadn’t noticed any signs of illness, but that he would relay the message as soon as he saw his master. 

NOTE: The post for the previous chapter was revised based on input and adventure notes form one of my players.

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