General Fiction posted November 25, 2018 Chapters:  ...27 28 -29- 30... 

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Chapter 29: After the Moulin Rouge

A chapter in the book The French Letter

Kayla's Story

by tfawcus

The author has placed a warning on this post for violence.

Their escape to England delayed by Mme Durand's seizure, Charles and Helen spend an evening at the Moulin Rouge...
end of Chapter 28:

Of course, the highlight of the show was at the end, when the famous Doriss Girls came on for one last time, to dance the Can-Can. Many in the audience rose from their seats and clapped along enthusiastically. Helen was right at my side when she suddenly grabbed my arm and started waving frantically. "Kayla! Look! It's Kayla. Right there, third from the end. Kayla is one of the Doriss girls. I've found her! Oh, God, Charles, I've found her."

There were tears streaming down her face as she threw both her arms around me and smothered me in kisses.

Chapter 29

The excited buzz of the audience had barely subsided as we found the nearest exit to the stage door.

A dour doorman ground his Gauloise underfoot and adjusted his uniform cap, before taking up a stance in front of us, blocking the way. He looked at us as though we were insects recently crawled from the sewers, cleared his throat, and delivered his well-worn mantra. "Vous ne pouvez pas venir ici. Cette porte est réservée aux artistes interprètes." Being thus relieved of his official speech, he turned and spat in the gutter.

Helen looked at me in dismay. "How are we going to get past him?"

"You will not get past me, mademoiselle. As I say already - this door is for the artistes. Entry is forbidden."

"But my sister is one of the artistes, monsieur. Her name is Kayla Culverson."

The doorman shrugged. "You expect me to know all the artistes' names, mademoiselle? That is not possible. You must wait here till she comes out."

Already a small crowd had begun to gather, in anticipation of seeing some of the performers at close quarters. Some were carrying cameras, a few carried roses, and one or two were doubtless carrying the impossible dream of a romantic liaison. A tall and distinguished looking gentleman stepped out from among them.

"Excuse me, kind sir. I could not help overhearing your conversation. Is this really Kayla's sister?" He took a half-step back, adjusted his monocle, and looked her up and down admiringly. "My word, Kayla's description fell short of the mark, and no mistake! You are a fine looking young lady, if ever I saw one."

Helen bristled. "And who might you be, monsieur?"

"Ah! Forgive me! You may call me Scaramouche." His mockery was evident. He swept his cape to one side and made an extravagant bow from the waist, at the same time whisking the velvet cap from his head. "I am at your service, mademoiselle."

"No you're bloody well not. Cut the bull, and tell me who you are, and what you've got to do with my sister."

Scaramouche twirled the end of his waxed moustache, and regarded her thoughtfully. "My, you are a hot-headed one, my dear. I like that in a woman! There's nothing like a bit of fire to ignite the passions."

He turned and winked at me. "Isn't that so, Monsieur?"

I thought Helen was going to blow a fuse, but the situation was saved by the stage door suddenly bursting open, disgorging a bevy of young ladies, arm-in-arm, giggling and blowing kisses to the enraptured mob. I was reminded of gazelles, safe from the predators so long as they remained together in their herd. Helen scanned the faces anxiously, but Kayla was not among them.

"Be patient, my little beauty. She will be here soon. I know my Kayla." He winked again. "She will be making herself look beautiful for Scaramouche, her paramour."

I physically restrained Helen from using him as a Muay Thai punching bag. "Take it easy, darling. He's harmless. Besides, Kayla might be quite disappointed if you damaged his crown jewels."

"As if! She wouldn't be seen dead with a creep like him."

How wrong she was. After a while, the stage door opened again, and Kayla sashayed out as if she were coming down the boardwalk. She was greeted with wolf whistles from every side as she and Scaramouche ran towards each other, arms outstretched. They met like two characters in an opera, extravagantly kissing first one cheek, and then the other.

Not content with that, Scaramouche sank onto one knee, took her hand in his and exclaimed, "Ma chérie. Tu as l'air divin!" and proceeded to kiss, like a chicken pecking corn, from her fingertips all the way up to her shoulder. At least, that appeared to be his intention, but he had barely reached her wrist when Kayla caught sight of Helen looking on in astonishment.

She tore herself free and rushed across, crying out, "Helen, my little sister - is it really you?" Whereupon they fell into each other's arms, mumbling incoherent endearments to one another. Scaramouche was left kissing thin air. He spun around on his heel and raised his eyebrows in mock amazement. "Gadzooks!" he exclaimed in dismay. His monocle fell from his eye, dangling from a silken sash, flaccid as the appendage of an aging gigolo.

I sauntered across to him and offered him my hand. "Bad luck, old chap. It looks as though you're not going to be needed tonight. You might as well make your way back to the madhouse." I immediately regretted my words, for a look of unmitigated misery crossed his face, and he slunk off into the night, a deflated and dejected parody of his former self.

Eventually, the two sisters disentangled themselves from their embraces and endearments, and turned their attention to me. I apologised profusely to Kayla, "I'm afraid I sent your friend Scaramouche off with a flea in his ear. I hadn't realised that under all that braggadocio, he was such a sensitive fellow."

"Oh, don't mind too much about André. He belongs to a commedia dell'arte troupe that's putting on a show at the moment. He adores playing the part of Scaramouche, the lovable braggart who's also an inveterate coward. It suits him perfectly!" She tried to allay my concerns by continuing, "I imagine he was just putting on an act for you. I'm sure he won't harbour any hard feelings. The dear man has a heart of gold. I don't know what I would have done without him over the past few weeks.

"Anyway, we mustn't let that cast a shadow over our reunion. Helen has been telling me things about you that would make any man blush."

There was an ominous roll of thunder in the distance and a flash of lightning to dramatize the skyline. "Why don't we all go round to my place? That'll give you two a chance to catch up, and it may save us all from getting soaked to the skin."

"Good idea," Helen said. "I seem to remember that you have a bottle of medicinal vodka in the cupboard."

"Saved especially for occasions such as this," I said, as I stepped out from the pavement to flag down a taxi. "I'll take you back there and unlock the place, then scout around and see if I can find some revolting takeaway food that we can share - frogs' legs pizza, perhaps."

Kayla gave Helen a knowing look. "I see what you mean about him. He probably can't help it."

She brushed aside the offer of pizza, saying that she was on a diet. Helen also demurred, presumably having been satisfied by her egg sandwich, and, on reflection, I thought that pizza might not sit well on top of a dozen snails. That being decided, I accompanied them upstairs to my apartment, resigning myself to the contiguous roles of drinks' waiter and fly on the wall.

By two o'clock in the morning, and halfway through her third Harvey Wallbanger, Kayla began talking about Bangkok. It was evident that she knew a good deal more about Mr Bukhari than we did.

"A dangerous man, and that's not the half of it. As soon as you told me he'd been at your meeting with Madame Durand, I knew that my warnings to be careful were not exaggerated. As you will remember, Helen, I pleaded with you to have no more to do with the woman. Bukhari was a powerful and evil man. I had heard our father talk about him in connection with the opium trade between Afghanistan and Pakistan, along secret and hidden passes through the Hindu Kush. The only possible reason for his interest in us would have been to involve us in the operation in some way."

"Yes, I know. I told Jeanne of your concerns and she just laughed. 'I hardly know the man,' she said. 'I am just a literary agent with a nose for a good story, and I happen to think that your story is a good one. That is why I'm offering you this opportunity. A trip to Paris, all expenses paid, has nothing to do with the Hindu Kush or Mr Bukhari.' She was convincing, and I believed her. I still do believe her."

"Open your eyes, sister. No-one gives what she was offering you without expecting something in return. Why, for instance, would she have given you a suitcase of new clothes? What happened to that suitcase, by the way?"

"She took it back. She said she needed it for another trip she was planning."

"Really? Or was it so that she could retrieve what was in the concealed compartments? Have you thought of that?"

"Don't be ridiculous. She wouldn't have done a thing like that. She was only trying to help me. To help us. But what happened to you? You just disappeared. Why was that, if you were so concerned about me? Where did you go?"

Kayla drained her glass and held it out towards me for a refill. "Bukhari put the screws on me. I was walking home from the nightclub after work when a car pulled up beside me and I was hustled into it. Bukhari was in the back seat. He leaned across and ran his hand over my breast, pausing to squeeze the nipple - hard. I winced in pain, and he drew closer and whispered in my ear, telling me what would happen to me if I didn't cooperate. Telling me what would happen to you, if I didn't cooperate. My blood ran cold.

"I knew there was only one thing I could do. When the car came to a halt at some traffic lights, I took my chance. He never saw it coming. A combination of blows so fast he had no defence against them. I broke a fingernail trying to gouge his eye out, and the chop to his neck must have collapsed his trachea, for he emitted a strange gurgling sound. It was over in seconds. I pushed the door open and threw myself out, barrel-rolling across the pavement, and disappeared into the crowd.

"It wasn't until the next day that I discovered that I had killed him. It was all over the front page of the Bangkok Post. Does that answer your question?"

Helen looked stunned. I shifted uncomfortably, not knowing what to say.

Eventually, after a long pause, Helen said, "...and then what?"

Book of the Month contest entry


List of characters:

Charles Brandon: The narrator, a well-known travel writer.
Helen Culverson: A woman of some mystery, also a travel writer, who seems to have become Charles's girlfriend.
Kayla Culverson: Her older sister, who disappeared somewhere in Bangkok.
Madame Jeanne Durand: A French magazine editor, who was involved in a serious accident, and seems also to be involved with the Mafia in some way.
Mr Bukhari - a Pakistani businessman
Madame Madeleine Bisset - Helen's landlady in Paris
Henri Carron - a rag-and-bone man, owner of an heroic dog called Bonaparte.
Monsieur Bellini - a denizen of the French Underworld.
Dr. Laurent: A veterinary surgeon in Versailles.
Father Pierre Lacroix, vicar of the Versailles Notre Dame church.
Madame Lefauvre: An old woman living in Versailles - the town gossip.
Francoise Gaudin: An intellectually disabled woman living in Versailles.
Alain Gaudin: brother of Francoise, a gardener at Monet's house in Giverney
Estelle Gaudin [deceased]: mother of Francoise and Alain, a prostitute
Mademoiselle Suzanne Gaudin [deceased]: Alain's grandmother, to whom the mysterious letter of 1903 was addressed.
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