'What is it? What do you want?'
It was time to degutturalize his French. 'You were recommended by friends in Nice,' said the patient, his accent more befitting the Quai dOrsay than Le Bouc de Mer.
'Oh?' The shopowner made an immediate reappraisal. Among his clientele, especially the younger ones, there were those who preferred to dress in opposition to their status. The common Basque shirt was even fashionable these days. 'You're new here, sir?'
My boat's in for repairs; we won't be able to reach Marseilles this afternoon.'
'May I be of service?'
The patient laughed. 'You may be to the chef; I wouldn't dare presume. He'll be around later and I do have some influence.'
The butcher and his friend laughed. 'I would think so, sir,' said the shopowner.
I'll need a dozen ducklings and, say, eighteen chateau-briands.!
'Good. I'll send our master of the galley directly to you.' The patient turned to the middle-aged man. 'By the way, I couldn't help overhearing ... no, please don't be concerned. The Marquis wouldn't be that jackass d'Ambois, would he? I think someone told me he lived around here.'
'Oh no, sir,! replied the servant. .'I don't know the Marquis d'Ambois. I was referring to the Marquis de Chambord. A fine gentleman, sir, but he has problems. A difficult marriage, sir. Very difficult, it's no secret"
'Chambord? Yes, I think we've met. Rather short fellow, isn't he?'
'No, sir. Quite tall, actually. About your size, I'd say."
The patient learned the various entrances and inside staircases of the two-storey cafe quickly - a produce delivery man from Roquevaire unsure of his new route. There were two sets of steps that led to the first floor, one from the kitchen, the other just beyond the front entrance in the small foyer; this was the staircase used by patrons going to the upstairs washrooms. There was also a window through which an interested party outside could see anyone who used this particular staircase, and the patient was sure that if he waited long enough he would see two people doing so. They would undoubtedly go up separately, neither heading for a washroom but, instead, to a bedroom above the kitchen. The patient wondered which of the expensive cars parked on the quiet street belonged to the Marquis de Chambord. Whichever, the middle-aged manservant in the butcher's shop need not be concerned; his employer would not be driving it.
The woman arrived shortly before one o'clock. She was a windswept blonde, her large breasts stretching the blue silk of her blouse, her long legs tanned, striding gracefully above spiked heels, thighs and fluid hips outlined beneath the tight-fitting white skirt. Chambord might have problems but he also bad taste.
Twenty minutes later he could see the white skirt through the window; the girl was heading upstairs. Less than sixty seconds later another figure filled the window frame; dark trousers and a blazer beneath a white face cautiously lurched up the staircase. The patient counted off the minutes; he hoped the Marquis de Chambord owned a watch.
Carrying his canvas knapsack as unobtrusively as possible by the straps, the patient walked down the flagstone path to the entrance of the restaurant. Inside, he turned left in the foyer, excusing himself past an elderly man trudging up the staircase, reached the first floor and turned left again down a long corridor that led towards the rear of the building, above the kitchen. He passed the washrooms and came to a closed door at the end of the narrow hallway where he stood motionless, his back pressed into the wall. He turned his head and waited for the elderly man to reach the washroom door and push it open while unzipping his trousers.
The patient - instinctively, without thinking, really - raised the soft knapsack and placed it against the centre of the door panel. He held it securely in place with his outstretched arms, stepped back and, in one swift movement, crashed his left shoulder into the canvas, dropping his right hand as the door sprang open, gripping the edge before the door could smash into a wall. No one below in the restaurant could have heard the muted forced entry.
'Nom de Dieul'
'Mere de Christ!'
The Marquis de Chambord spun off the naked body of the blonde woman, sprawling over the edge of the bed onto the floor. He was a sight from a comic opera, still wearing his starched shirt, the tie knotted in place, and on his feet black silk, knee-length socks; but that was all he wore. The woman grabbed the covers, doing her best to lessen the indelicacy of the moment.
The patient issued his commands swiftly. 'Don't raise your voices. No one will be hurt if you do exactly as I say.
'My wife hired you!' cried Chambord, his words slurred, his eyes barely in focus. I'll pay you more!'
'That's a beginning,' answered Dr Washburn's patient. Take off your shirt and tie. Also the socks.' He saw the glistening gold band around the Marquis's wrist 'And the watch.'
Several minutes later the transformation was complete. The Marquis's clothes were not a perfect fit, but no one could deny the quality of the cloth or the original tailoring. Also, the watch was a Gerard-Perregaux, and Chambord's wallet contained over thirteen thousand francs. The car keys were also impressive; they were set in monogrammed heads of sterling silver with the familiar big cat device.
'For the love of God, give me your clothes!' said the Marquis, the implausibility of his predicament penetrating the haze of alcohol.
'I'm sorry, but I can't do that,! replied the intruder, gathering up both his own clothes and those of the blonde woman. 'You can't take mine I' she yelled. 'I told you to keep your voices down.' 'All right, all right,' she continued, 'but you can't...' 'Yes, I can.' The patient looked around the room; there was a telephone on a desk by a window. He crossed to it and yanked the cord out of the socket. 'Now no one will disturb you,' he added, picking up the knapsack.
'You won't go free, you know!' snapped Chambord. 'You won't get away with this I The police will find you!'
'The police?' asked the intruder. 'Do you really think you should call the police? A formal report will have to be made, the circumstances described. I'm not so sure that's such a good idea. I think you'd be better off waiting for that fellow to pick you up later this afternoon. I heard him say he was going to get you past the Marquise into the stables. All things considered, I honestly believe that's what you should do. I'm sure you can come up with a better story than what really happened here. I won't contradict you.'
The unknown thief left the room, closing the damaged door behind him.
You are not helpless. You will find your way.
So far he had and it was a little frightening. What had Wash-burn said? That his skills and talents would come back ... but I don't think you'll ever be able to relate them to anything in your past. The past. What kind of past was it that produced the skills he had displayed during the past twenty-four hours? Where had he learned to maim and cripple with lunging feet, and fingers entwined into hammers? How did he know precisely where to deliver the blows? Who had taught him to play upon the criminal mind, provoking and evoking a reluctant commiI'ment? How did he zero in so quickly on mere implications, convinced beyond doubt that his instincts were right? Where had he learned to discern instant extortion in a casual conversation overheard in a butcher's shop? More to the point, perhaps, was the simple decision to carry out the crime. My God, how could he?