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Author Topic: The Evaporated KIller (Chapter 1) {With spaces under Munley's advice}  (Read 244 times)
B.W.French
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« on: September 27, 2017, 07:40:24 PM »

For what it's worth, there it is. Chapter 1.

Chapter I

Une visite inattendue
(An unexpected visit)

   It was a warm, stormy afternoon, typical July weather in Paris, the City of Lights. I was relishing the idle peace of this quiet day, when I heard three soft knocks at the door, discreetly spaced 3-4 seconds apart. My trained ear detected in those triple knocks, a dignity indicating in my visitor, a high social status that delighted me, and propelled me to the door to answer the call.

   In front of me, stood the Baron Armand de Valfort. At least, it was the name I read on the calling card that the gentleman handed me with a prompt gesture, unintended to be aggressive, nor demeaning. He just seemed to be a person who was up-front about what he wanted, and his deportment reflected authority and confidence. His clothes were elegant, and obviously cut by the hand of a rich tailor.

   Physically, he looked like what he was: a middle-aged man, and ‘middle’ could have been, in my opinion, applied to most aspects of his physiognomy. His voice was flat, and when he talked, his dark brown eyes were moving a bit faster. He wore very thin gold rimmed spectacles, resting hesitantly on the bridge of his strong hooked nose, below which, shined fleshy lips.

   “You are Captain Walter Morsirisse, n’est-ce pas?” he said.
   “Premier Bataillon Étranger de Parachutistes.” I answered, lowering my head stiffly, in a salute that I thought was the right way to acknowledge the distinction of his persona, and allowed me, from a practical point of view, to have a better look at him, since at 6 feet 4, I was much taller than he was.
   “Ah! Foreign Legion!” He exclaimed. “Très bien. You’re a Foreigner! Are you Canadian?”
   “American.” I rushed to say, setting the record straight.   
   “And, at present, Captain… You are…?” he enquired hesitantly.
   “A Private…! Detective, that is!”
   “Very well,” he said, ignoring my military sense of humor. “You seem to be the person I was looking for.”
   “And may I ask: where were you looking?”
   “I picked your name from ‘Le Bottin’, naturally! One finds everything in those Yellow Pages.”
 
   I was so happy to find, right on my doorstep, such an agreeable wealthy gentleman, that I did not linger over more introductions. I gave him a smile and a nod, then quickly invited the gracious visitor to enter. I showed him to the room where I kept my cheap liquor and received my clients. I even offered him a drink that he refused politely. 

   “I’m sorry, to call on you unannounced,” he said, “I know how busy you are…”
   “Hmm! Do you? Really?” I muttered. “Eh bien, je  vous écoute!”

   The Baron pulled out of his pocket a letter, and handed it to me. Struck by its singular color, I took it in slow motion, and held it between my fingers for a few seconds, staring at it.

   Only once before in my life, did I ever have the opportunity to observe such a hue. It was on a rare orchid, and up to this day, I still remember the strange sensation I felt, when I first saw this delicate and fragile flower. It had a color purple, a sad color purple, redder and paler than heliotrope, bluer and lighter than average amethyst, and whiter and slightly bluer than manganese violet.

   And now, in my hand, I had this letter that fascinated me like a blue snake hissing out of the past, its paper tongue out, menacingly.

   “‘S’il vous plait!’” said the Baron. “Please, read it.”
   I did so, hesitating, as if I were violating King Tut Tomb, but I finally acquainted myself with its content.

      Monsieur,
   It has become impossible for me to wait any longer for you to pay your debt. If I don’t hear from you, within 48 hours, I will come to collect at your domicile.
      S.V.
   

This was merely a note. Almost a telegram. I could not figure out why the Baron de Valfort had taken the trouble to consult me about it. The two bare sentences making up this short message looked perfectly straightforward, and devoid of mystery.

   “I’m sorry,” I said, “but, from what I read, I don’t understand how I can be of any assistance to you. If you owe money to this… this S.V., pay him! Simple as that.”
   “Pay him?!” he cried out. “Pay whom? Pay what? I don’t know anyone who signs S.V... And I don’t owe money to anyone! ”
   “Maybe was it a promise you made?” I ventured, as soon as the idea had crossed my mind.
   “I just told you that I’m not familiar with those initials. How could I make a promise to someone I don’t know?”

   He pronounced this last sentence in such a convincing manner that I would have dropped my assumption, if it were not for the unbending tenacity of my character, and also for the lack of other possible interpretation of this odd and vaguely formulated message.

   “I do not wish to insist, Baron,” I said, “but it so happens that sometimes, in a moment of … let us say… ‘imbibed exuberance’, one can meet and get friendly with someone…, friendly to the point of forgetting what not to say; and the next day, unfortunately, it is very possible to forget to whom we said what we should not have said in the first place…”
   “Nonsense! I am not a child!”
   “So you maintain that you don’t know how much? Why? And who’s asking you to pay what?”
   “Of course! Must I repeat it?”
   “Non, merci. It makes the case more complex, but I have to believe my clients. Now! Please! Tell me the facts.”   
   “The facts? But! They, all, are there: in that letter!” He whined, impatiently.
   “‘Perhaps.” I said. “But not in its content!”
   “That’s silly! What you’re saying doesn’t make any sense!”
   “On the contrary! I have a hunch that it does,” I answered, “and this page is just a footnote to its own emptiness.”
   The Baron, in a rapid gesture, put his hand on his thick grey hair, and stroked it in a flash, from the front hairline, to the back of the head.
   “I don’t understand a word of what you’re saying!” he cried.
   “You will! I promise you. For the time being, could you, Baron, tell me a bit more about the circumstances surrounding the discovery of the letter? That might help me.”
   “Très bien!” he conceded. “But, even though there is not much to say, what I will tell you must remain confidential. I do not want any part of it to come to my wife’s attention. You must handle this with the utmost discretion…."

   I shook my head, slowly, with an aura of mystery, meant to create an auspicious atmosphere for the solemn promise I made him to respect his wish.

   “Well then! Voilà.” He said, convinced of my sincerity. “Last night, before dinner, I entered my office to gather a few documents I needed to get in shape, before calling my Solicitor in order to finalize a dossier….”
   “Please! Baron,” I interrupted. “Don’t make a Dossier out of a letter. Tell me only about the latter. Hmm! That is…! The letter!”

   “Oh! Yes! Of course. I understand.” He mumbled. “Well! Anyway…! As I came in my office, I was immediately struck by the color of the envelope which was sitting on my desk. As you can see for yourself, it is quite distinctive. Naturally, I opened it with curiosity, since being a banker, I rarely receive such a colorful piece of mail.
   “After reading it, not yet convinced of the oddity of its content, I thought of calling the police; but again, I felt that the police lacked discretion. I did not want my wife- you understand, - to be alarmed, and go to imagine that I was mixed up in a shady story which, after all, might turn out to be a hoax. Nevertheless, still preoccupied by the whole aspect of the situation, I decided to call upon someone familiar with these sorts of things.…”

   “You were right, Baron! And you came to the right person! Now, tell me! Who is in charge of handling your mail?”
   “Why! My valet. Étienne Duboulet. He’s been – with his wife Marie- at my service for the past ten years. He never gave me any cause for complaint. He and his wife are both loyal and faithful servants, devoted to the family.”
   “What are, precisely, his duties, as far as your mail is concerned?”
   “Certainly! It is very simple, really! He collects it, and drops it in a tray which is on my desk.”
   “Très bien. However, as you may have noticed, this letter has no stamp, nor is it bearing any indication, seal, or otherwise sign of having been sent through a post office. Therefore, somebody must have delivered it directly to your house. Have you questioned Étienne?”
   “This is, I’m afraid, Monsieur Morsirisse, another mystery. You see! Étienne told me that he knew nothing about it.”
   “Tiens! Tiens! C’est bizarre!”
   “Do you think he lied?” asked the Baron. “He had no reason to!” he added quickly. “And again! I believe him to be honest and reliable.”
   “One mustn’t jump to conclusion. For the moment I have another hunch! And so, I am going to ask you an important question. A lot will depend on what your answer will be. This is why I want you to trust me, and be frank with me.”

   I marked a pause to let my silence underline the gravity of what I was going to ask next: the one question which had crept out of the uneasy feeling the letter had created in me from the beginning. I spoke brusquely.

   “Tell me now, Baron! Where is the other one?”
   “What do you mean?!” he eructed, jumping as if he had been bitten by a bee. “What other one?!”
   “Don’t you know?’” I asked, feigning a surprise with the talent of a third rate actor in a third rate Paris Boulevard theater.
   “No! I don’t know!” he almost screamed.
   “The other ‘Blue letter’,” I clarified. “The one you received, before that one.”
   “What are you talking about? There is no other ‘Blue letter’. Neither blue nor pink! I assure you!”
   “Oh, yes, Baron! There is. Don’t you see? There must be another letter! Because, right now, in the one I’m holding in my hand, the facts are missing!”
   “I still fail to understand! Why ‘another’?”
   “Yes, why? Let me explain.” I said, suddenly sounding like Sherlock Holmes. “The present letter is evidently blackmail. Still, no matter how one reads it, one always ends up with the same three questions. ‘Who?’ ‘Why?’ ‘How much?’ But! Again! In a case of blackmail the victim is supposed to know who will ‘collect’, and above all, how much he is being taken for. That is a simple rule in that despicable business, and also, pure common sense. In this case, though, such a rule, I’m bound to say, was totally neglected.
   “Furthermore! As you can see for yourself, the blackmailer only signs S.V., trusting that you already know his identity. He does not mention how much he wants you to pay him, but only makes reference to a debt. Again, he seems to be confident that you’re aware of what debt he’s talking about. Finally, when he adds that he cannot wait any longer, this can only mean that you have not, or at least, he thinks that you have not met his previous demands.
   “Now the question arises.” I continued, still verbalizing ‘à la ‘Sherlock’. “How those previous demands were put to you? And the answer is: in person, or… addressed in an earlier letter. If we eliminate the first possibility for obvious reasons, we’re left with the ineluctable conclusion that the letter you handed me, is not the only one that was sent to you. This is why, Baron, I am asking you again: ‘where is the other one?’”

   The Baron de Valfort looked confounded. He remained motionless, in a state of genuine astonishment. I could see him struggling with the reality of the situation, as he got faced with the details that I just pointed out, details which had probably escaped him from the start of his difficulties. The lines on his brow had deepened, and his eyes were sending crooked signals of distress. He had finally understood the question I had posited, and above all, had grasped its significance. He knew at present, - as I strove to demonstrate it, - that the receipt of a first letter was the unavoidable corollary of the existence of the second one.

   “Morsirisse,” he finally declared, “I have followed, and even appreciated your line of reasoning, and I admit it! You may have a point. Nevertheless, I regret to tell you, that the only mail of questionable nature I’ve received, is in your hands. And that’s final.”

   He was lying, of course, but there was no point to argue about it? In fact, his whole story sounded so phony that my curiosity had arisen out of it, and I was asking myself new questions which blew away my earliest thoughts like smoke in a turbulent air current.

   If truly, the Baron had not previously received another letter, giving him full instructions and more explanations, the present one would then become a pointless message, scribbled down on a piece of blue paper. And in that case, why did this important man have randomly picked up my name in the Yellow Pages just to show me that? What was the point of it all? I didn’t know!

   “So, Baron, what do you want me to do?” I asked, feigning total innocence. “How can I help you?”

   The Baron was tense, trying to control his body as if he were having the biggest stomach ache of his life.

   “I want you to find out who wrote the letter!” He said, looking at me with eyes refracting some inner, conflicting thoughts, which contradicted his words.

   It would have been easy to reject his commission, because there was no case, at least, no case of blackmail. However, this blue letter was beginning to make me see red. Somebody had made a fool of the Baron, or, it was the Baron who was taking me for one. I was burning to find out the truth!

   “I’ll tell you!” I said. “Not only will I find the identity of the author of the letter, but I’ll catch him.”

   He smiled, showing white and regular teeth, the unmistakable creation of an expensive dentist on the Champs Élysées.
 
   “My dear Morsirisse!” He said, keeping smiling, to give me time to appreciate his dental work. “I understand why you chose to join the Foreign Legion! ‘L’Action, toujours l’Action!!’ But! How are you going to catch that person?”
   “Yes! I’ll be glad to satisfy your curiosity. But, first!” I added, “How much cash, do you have on you…?”
« Last Edit: September 28, 2017, 07:33:33 PM by B.W.French » Logged
Munley
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« Reply #1 on: September 28, 2017, 12:35:45 AM »

I'm interested in reading this whole thing, but it's difficult to read this big block of solid text. Would you mind putting blank lines between paragraphs and between sections of dialogue? Thanks!
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B.W.French
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« Reply #2 on: September 28, 2017, 08:54:45 AM »

HI, Munley!
Done it! Thank you.
« Last Edit: September 28, 2017, 09:08:27 AM by B.W.French » Logged
Munley
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« Reply #3 on: September 28, 2017, 10:05:39 PM »

I enjoyed reading this. The plot build-up clips right along in a natural, not forced, way. The language has the feel of an older-style detective novel, which I take is deliberate. I like it.

Some time ago I binge-read a bunch of old Perry Mason novels, most of which open with someone coming to Perry's door, often accompanied by Della Street. Little observations with conclusions about the visitor are woven through the encounter in ways similar to yours.

I'm also a fan or Ross MacDonald. His Lew Archer offers quick, memorable descriptions of people he encounters as he goes along. I can still picture, from The Chill, the woman who answers the door with hair so dried out and over-bleached that she appeared to be wearing a yellow fright wig.

Anyway, I like your writing style and the sense that the plot is in good hands. Keep going.
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B.W.French
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« Reply #4 on: September 29, 2017, 11:08:55 AM »

HI, Munley!
Thank you for your comment. I, also, love Perry Mason and all the  "Greats". I constantly dig in their genius to find inspiration. What can I say! I love mystery novels! I believe one can put as much in a mystery book as in a so called "serious" novel.
Thank you again for your comment that gave me the strength we all need to continue to go on writing.
My moto (nothing to do with Mr. Moto) is :
"I write because I want.
 I want because I write."
« Last Edit: September 29, 2017, 11:13:52 AM by B.W.French » Logged
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