General Fiction posted January 8, 2019 Chapters:  ...31 32 -33- 34... 

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Chapter 33: Some surprising developments

A chapter in the book The French Letter

The Drug Bust

by tfawcus

Helen and Charles continue with their plan to flee to England with Madame Durand in an attempt to escape Monsieur Bellini's men, who are hot on their trail.
Link from Chapter 32 (posted just before Christmas)

I got up to find Kayla already gone and the mess from the night before cleared away. It was already ten o'clock. As I staggered towards the bathroom, I could smell coffee simmering on the stove. Sun streamed through the window onto a neatly laid breakfast table, and a tempting aroma of fresh croissants hung in the air.

Chapter 33

"Where is Kayla?" I asked casually as I sat down. "She must have left early."

"Not really. It's already past nine o'clock. Anyway, why the keen interest in Kayla? She's not the one providing your breakfast."

"No particular reason. I just wondered where she'd gone. That's all."

There was a slight tension in the air. Anyone with sensitivity to such things might have mistaken it for paranormal activity. They would have been wrong. It was Helen's sixth sense at work. She, like most women, seemed to be equipped with an antenna capable of picking up vibrations beyond the wit of man.

I took a sip of coffee before continuing, "I assume that she's gone back to Montmartre, to lover boy, André. Is that right?"

"Yes, but I doubt they are lovers." Helen’s face clouded as she said it. "She told me a bit more last night about him, and about her circle of friends up there. You're not going to believe this, but that dwarf we saw at the Moulin Rouge comes from Versailles. He might even be descended from Germain. Now, wouldn't that be a coincidence?"

With my mouth full, I mumbled, "A bit farfetched, but possible, I suppose."

"But not as much of a coincidence as this. I was telling Kayla about our time in Versailles and mentioned Alain Gaudin. Her interest was immediately piqued. Apparently, one of the stagehands at the Moulin Rouge is called Alain, and - get this - he has a distinctive white streak in his hair. It would have to be the same man. He and the dwarf are almost inseparable."

"Now that is interesting. I wonder what Madame Lefauvre would say if she knew? Enough gossip to keep her going for months." I smiled at the thought. "Alain and his darling dwarf tumbling about amid the boobs and bottoms of the Red Windmill. The mind boggles."

"Anyway, Kayla's going to see if she can find out more about him. A little judicious flattery, and he's sure to take the bait."

"Yes, she'd only need to wiggle the naughty bits, and he'd be hooked."

Helen gave me another of those looks of hers. I could see that I was treading on dangerous ground. On the other hand, I was delighted to think that we had an ally in our quest to discover the secret of the French letter - always assuming there was a secret. Alain not only had the original letter - and my envelope, blast him - but he knew something about the dark deeds of its author, Colonel Neville Arnoux.

We might also be able to uncover more informaton about Lautrec's lost painting, the one that Alain thought belonged, by rights, to him. Now that would be a scoop, I thought. My mind was buzzing as I devoured the last of the croissant.

"Come on, Charles. Hurry up! We should already be at the hospital. Jeanne isn't going to hang about there forever, waiting for us."

I answered absentmindedly, "You're right, and Bellini's men might be back on the trail. I suppose we'd better get going."

I was in two minds about returning to the hospital, especially after the things that Kayla had said about Jeanne. The sooner she was out of our lives, the better. If Bellini bumped her off, it would be no great loss.

However, Helen still seemed to regard her as a guardian angel. I couldn't understand this blind spot, but I knew she wouldn't countenance any suggestion of letting events take their natural course.

It seemed to me that the only way of destroying Helen's dangerous relationship might be to implement my original intention, and spirit the pernicious old viper away to England for a while. When back on home territory, I might be able to milk her of her venom, or perhaps even withdraw her fangs altogether.

We arrived at L'hôpital Lariboisière half an hour later, to find no sign of Bellini's men, and no sign of Jeanne either. Her bed was empty.

"Madame Durand? Let me see." The duty nurse flipped through her register. "That's strange. It seems she discharged herself earlier this morning. The paperwork must have been handled by one of the other nurses." Somewhat apologetically, she added, "I only came on duty a short while ago. Wait a moment while I ring downstairs to reception. They may know more."

Helen glared at me. "This is all your fault, Charles. I knew we should have been here earlier. Now what are we going to do?"

"I suggest we wait while the nurse makes her enquiries. There's no point in jumping to conclusions."

"Jumping to conclusions? You wouldn't jump, even if I put a firecracker under you."

"Perhaps not. But the hospital security staff might."

"God! You're impossible with that bloody English sangfroid of yours."

I didn't bother to reply, but regarded her speculatively, recalling Napoleon's famous words: "He who is full of courage and sangfroid before an enemy battery sometimes trembles before a skirt.''

"What are you smiling at, Charles?"

"Oh, nothing."

"- and what's with that ridiculous trembling, for goodness sake? You look like an alcoholic with the DTs."

I was saved from answering by the nurse.

"Excusez-moi, mademoiselle." She looked puzzled. "The receptionist says that Madame Durand has only recently been discharged. I can check with matron, if you like, and see if she knows more. A moment, please."

"Come on! We're wasting our time here," Helen said. She tugged me away towards the lift. I turned to the nurse, with a half-smile of resigned apology. I daresay she thought me a poor excuse for a man.

Matters were made worse when we got downstairs. "You stay here in the waiting area, Charles, while I go and see what I can find out."

I was becoming irked at being bossed about by this mere chit of a girl, but thought the better of tagging along behind her. Instead, I reached for a newspaper and sat down. A rather pointless exercise really, as my French wasn't good enough to understand much. Nonetheless, it was somewhere to bury my dark mood while I quietly simmered down.

I could make little sense of the headline: UNE SAISIE DE DROGUE À PARIS. My mind turned to Scaramouche and his friends. "The drag season in Paris" perhaps? No, perhaps not. There was a picture further down the page of an unsavoury looking man handcuffed between two gendarmes. Fat, with beady eyes and jowls like a pig. His bulging Italian suit added to the sinister impression. I couldn't help thinking of Napoleon -- no, neither the dictator, nor Henri Carron's heroic bull mastiff, but that odious oinker, the scourge of Animal Farm. Standing behind, and slightly to one side of him was a square-built bozo with an impassive face, one of a pair of faces I was beginning to know quite well. Doubtless his doppelgänger was lurking in the background.

The words 'cocaïne' and 'amphétamine', essentially the same in both French and English, leapt from the page. UNE SAISIE DE DROGUE À PARIS. Of course! ...a seizure of drugs in Paris. It appeared that our Monsieur Bellini had been neutralised by the Parisian Drug Squad. I paused to let the news sink in. So where did that leave Madame Durand?

As I lowered the newspaper, I saw Helen approaching, her arm wrapped around the shoulder of my question mark.

"Look, Charles dear, I've found Jeanne! She was in the cafeteria all the time, waiting for us to arrive." Helen looked triumphant. "Now the three of us can leave for England together, just as we planned, can't we?"



I could write a glossary of the British slang here, but I think most of it is pretty self-evident from the context. I hope so, anyway.

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.
Dave: An Australian on holiday in Thailand with some friends.
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

Image is of the stamps on the famous envelope that started us out on this wild goose chase. (See Chapter 1)
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