?

Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

The Eagle Chronicles 13: Monaco

Title: Monaco
Series: The Eagle Chronicles.
Word Count 9887
Summary For Steven Taylor, there's no such thing as a quiet vacation




13 Monaco


July 1946

Steven looked out the taxi window as it took him through the streets of Paris. It seemed that there were construction crews everywhere repairing the damage from the war. They still had a long way to go, however. The driver dropped him off and he paid his fare before entering the Louvre. There was more of a crowd than he expected and he didn't know the reason for it. He found the person he was looking for, the reason he came to Paris. He walked over and stood behind her. "Hello."

She turned around, surprised. "Steven! How wonderful to see you! What are you doing in Paris? Have you come to see the exhibition?"

"What exhibition?"

She dragged him by the arm over to a sign. "The Jonteau-Townshend Collection. Dr. Jonteau and his daughter were liberated from Paris by an American agent named Townshend and they brought these art treasures with them."

Steven tried to hide his surprise. "Where did they hide the treasures?"

"Switzerland. One of the stipulations was that they be returned to Paris once Germany lost the war. What's the matter? What are you looking for?"

"Are the Jonteaux here?"

"No. They were here yesterday for the unveiling, but not today. Why?"

"I just wanted to see them, that's all."

"You didn't come to Paris to talk art, did you?" Steven merely smiled. "Why?"

"To see you." Victoria didn't believe him. "I've had an invitation from a guy I met during the war and he said I could bring a friend."

She smiled. "And where is this lovely vacation spot? The Black Hole of Calcutta? The middle of the Sahara? Antarctica?"

"What? You don't think my friends get good jobs? I don't think I'll tell you now. This is Paris. Maybe I can find some other woman who'd like to go with a war hero." He turned to leave.

"Steven, wait. I'm sorry. You know I was kidding. Tell me where, please."

"Monte Carlo."

Victoria bit back a laugh. "You, in Monte Carlo? Five years ago if they had known who you were, you wouldn't have been allowed in the country."

"C'mon, you know I don't do that anymore."

"Can you honestly tell me that since you were revealed as the Eagle, that you haven't stolen any jewels?"

"Well..."

"Honestly."

"Once. The man was a murderer and was selling military secrets to the Nazis."

"I believe you, but I don't know how many others would."

"Well, can you join me on the sun-drenched beaches of the Cote d'Azure and the decadent casinos?"

"I can't, not until the weekend." She took in his sad face. "You know I'm taking art courses at the Sorbonne. I can't just up and leave."

"Okay. I'll see you Friday. I'm staying at L'Hermitage. Call if you can't make it." He kissed her good-bye.

Three hours later Steven was driving through the French countryside to the coast in his rented white convertible. Because of his late start, he would stop somewhere for the night and continue onto Monaco in the morning. Driving along the Rhone, he regretted the fact that Victoria wasn't with him to enjoy the sights. Just being in France put him in a romantic mood. The last time he was in France, he had his mind on other things, mainly his blindness and the end of the war. His sight had returned a few months ago, but he still had to wear dark sunglasses in bright sunlight or suffer a minor relapse.

He stopped in Lyon for something to eat. He had been here previously when he was with the Underground and needed to meet with some Resistance leaders. He smiled at the memory and wondered how many were still alive. He drove on to the south and stopped in Avignon for the night. Since it would be for only one night, he chose an expensive hotel, the Europe on the place Crillon, which was once a 16th century house where Napoleon once stayed, bragged the manager.

After dinner, Steven went upstairs to his rooms and stretched out on the bed. Despite a transatlantic flight and driving all afternoon, he couldn't get to sleep. He spotted a radio speaker on the wall and got up to turn it on. La Vie en Rose by Edith Piaf drifted softly through the room. He hummed along as he thought of what to do. He sat down at the desk and penned a letter home to his family, promising a post card from Monaco.

**************************************************

He woke the next morning before his phone call. He opened his window and breathed the fresh air. The early morning sun sparkled on the Rhone and Steven regretted he couldn't spend the whole day there being lazy. The phone rang and it was the front desk with his alarm call. When he hung up, Steven picked out a fresh suit and got his things together for a shower. When he was ready, he checked out of the hotel then stopped at a small cafe for a light breakfast of croissants and coffee.

He then headed for the Mediterranean coast and the Corniche Inferiore. The roadway was dotted with small fishing villages. The sea was never out of his sight for more than five minutes, its blue waters beckoning swimmers. No wonder it was called the Cote d'Azure. The corniche became a bit more crowded as he neared the busier vacation spots of Nice, St. Tropez, and Cannes.

The streets of Monte Carlo were narrow and crowded and traffic crawled. Steven looked at a map he had bought earlier and made his way to L'Hermitage. It wasn't at all what he had expected. It was a luxury hotel, the last place he expected to find Harry. The porter took his bags to the front desk and waited while he registered. The clerk at the desk greeted him in fluent English with only a slight French accent. Once he saw Steven's name in the register, he excused himself and called for the day manager. After a few moments, a man in an impeccable suit came rushing out. "Steven! Glad you could make it!" He shook his hand and gave him a bear hug.

Steven couldn't get over it. "Harry, this isn't at all what I expected."

"I know. All my tales of hating working at my dad's hotel in New York, yet here I am."

"It's not just that. It's this hotel itself. It's so, so...elegant."

"I wish more people thought the way you do. C'mon, I'll walk you up to your suite."

"Suite? I can't even afford a closet in this place."

"You don't have to," said Harry as they got into the elevator. "I had something of an ulterior motive in asking you here. You see, our custom is down and everyone's been staying at the Hotel de Paris because they've had some names over there. The manager thought if we could do the same, we might get them back."

"So you contacted your buddy from the war to ask him to stay, offering his room for free. You are a first-class piece of work, Harry."

"I try," he said. They stepped out of the elevator and walked down a plushly-carpeted hallway that had some potted palms placed intermittently along the way. Harry stopped in front of a set of double doors and made a big show of opening the door. "Here you are." Steven walked into a beautiful sitting room that nearly took his breath away. There were fresh-cut flowers placed throughout the suite and the bar was well stocked. A balcony stretched along the side of the suite and overlooked the Mediterranean. "Some view, eh?"

"C'est manifique, incroyable."

"Quit showing off. I've got to go now, but take it easy and tonight we'll go to the Casino." Harry paused. "You did bring a tux, didn't you?"

"This is Monte Carlo, isn't it? Give me some credit."

Harry left and Steven roamed about the suite getting used to everything. The suite had a second bedroom that would be Victoria's come the weekend. Steven went over to the bar and made himself a whisky. He moved out to the balcony and sat down on a chaise lounge. The Mediterranean sun warmed him right through and he felt he had better enjoy it before the hotel found some reason to throw him out. A copy of La Figaro was lying on the table and he picked it up. A picture of Dr. Jonteau and his daughter Genevieve greeted him. Could he ever get away from them? The article underneath the photograph spoke of how they escaped to Switzerland. It also told of the Jonteaux search for the mysterious Simon Townshend who disappeared without a trace. He couldn't believe that they had looked for him. If they still were, they must not have seen his picture in the papers. It was a good thing he missed them in Paris. He wanted Townshend to remain a mystery--at least that aspect of him.

He woke later to the growling of his stomach and noticed that the sun had just set. He rose and turned on a few lights on the way to the bathroom. From there, he went to the bedroom and began to prepare for his night out. The phone rang. "Steven, it's me. You getting ready for tonight? Good. I'll stop by around 8:00. Okay? Bye."

Steven laughed as he hung up the phone. Harry hadn't changed at all. He still talked a blue streak when excited. Less than an hour. That was cutting things close. He took a quick shower and when he was done, he wrapped a towel around his waist and looked in the mirror as he ran a hand across his chin. He'd better shave to make a favorable impression. This done, he walked back into the bedroom and dressed. After a slight struggle with his bow tie, he was ready.

Harry arrived a few minutes later. "You're gonna wow them at the Casino tonight."

"I try," Steven replied with a smile.

Because it was a nice night and the hotel was situated close to the Casino, they walked. Steven paused when he saw the line of luxury cars dropping off people at the door. What was he doing here among all these wealthy people? He didn't belong. "Are you okay?" asked Harry.

"Yeah, thanks." He took a deep breath and walked inside. His senses were overwhelmed. The sounds of the slot machines, the calls of the croupiers, as well as the sounds of the people in general. The scents of cologne and perfume mingled with the smoke from cigarettes, cigars, and pipes. If his eyes though L'Hermitage elegant, they wished they could stay open forever in the lobby of the Casino and take everything in.

"C'mon, let me get you a drink and we can mingle a bit; watch some of the games before you jump in and try it yourself."

Steven allowed himself to be led away and be plied with drink. Both the alcohol and Harry's personality made him feel more comfortable. Word spread that Steven Taylor the War Hero was in the Casino and a crowd soon formed around him. They wanted to hear stories about his war experience, and, since the alcohol had washed his normal reticence away, he spoke freely.

A hush fell over the room as a door to one of the private rooms opened and a man walked out. "Prince Ranier," Harry whispered.

Steven bowed his head. "Your Highness."

The prince took his hand and looked him in the face. "You are younger than I thought. You have done fine work."

"Thank you, sir."

"Are you enjoying your stay in Monte Carlo?"

"This is my first day, but I've enjoyed it immensely."

Ranier took Steven by the arm and led him to a balcony overlooking the sea. "If it weren't for men like you, Monsieur Taylor, we Monegasques and other free countries would not be able to enjoy ourselves as we do today." Steven was quite flattered. "Perhaps you would like to stay at the Palace?"

Steven was amazed. A chance to live in a palace--even if only temporary. He looked over at Harry, whose eyes had widened upon hearing the invitation. "No, thank you, sir. Though I'm greatly honored, I can't accept. I've already promised Harry Sutton, my friend here, that I would stay at L'Hermitage."

"Very commendable. Then you and M. Sutton can be my guests at the gala on Friday."

"We'd love to," said Harry with a grin.

***************************************************

Two men on the grounds below heard the invitation. "This is perfect, Louis. The prince has invited him to the gala. He can do our job for us."

"How could he, Henri?"

"Don't you know anything? He was the greatest thief ever. That man is the Eagle."

"But why would he risk being caught for us? I thought he was going straight."

"He is, but we'll show him where his best interests lie." Henri smiled wickedly as he watched the trio leave the balcony.

*****************************************************

That night in their room in the Hotel de Paris, a young woman was arguing with her father. "Papa, I know it was him."

"Genevieve, you only saw him for a brief moment and that was as the door was closing. After searching Europe and America for any trace of this man, why would he show up here now?"

"Maybe it is Fate, Papa. Why was he in Paris then? Why did he have to leave when we did?"

"I know M. Townshend was a compelling young man and you want very much to see him again, but you mustn't build your hopes up too high." Genevieve looked. downhearted. "If what you say is true, he must have been with the crowd around Steven Taylor, the war hero. Perhaps if we follow him, we can find M. Townshend."

*******************************************************

The following day found Steven lounging on the beach. Aside from gambling, that's what the Riviera was known for. He kept his dark glasses on at all times to protect the still-recovering eyes from the glare of the sun. It had been a little over a year since the blast in Berlin that cost him the temporary loss of his sight. He sighed and tried to put it all behind him. A waiter came over and offered him a drink of juice--any alcohol would have put him to sleep. It was cool and refreshing and he felt totally spoiled. Too much of this could ruin a person.

After the thrill of sunbathing wore off, he changed his clothes and went to the Cafe de Paris to engage in one of his favorite pastimes: people watching. He had been told that this was the best place for it since people went there to see and be seen. He attracted a few stares himself and attributed it to the sunglasses. He ordered a light meal and a glass of wine. He saw no one he knew which made the guessing more fun. There were two men that puzzled him, however. He couldn't place them in any category and that made him nervous because that was what he used to project in his thieving days.

When he was done, he headed back for L'Hermitage through a narrow passageway. He was at the halfway point when they jumped him. They wore masks so he couldn't see their faces. One pinned his arms behind his back while the other spoke. "We know who you are and what you did, M. Eagle. You can help my friend and I solve a little problem. We need some money and you can provide us with the means when you attend the gala Friday night."

"No way am I going to steal for you. The Eagle is dead and buried. I'm here to enjoy myself, nothing more."

"Oh, but I think you will. You just need a little persuasion." He punched Steven in the ribs. Steven winced and tried to free at least one of his hands to hit back. The other man held him tighter. "What? Did you say something, monsieur?" Steven remained quiet. "Maybe this will get you to agree." He began to punch him repeatedly in the stomach and chest.

"Hey! Stop that!" The men stopped and looked down the alley. When they saw the man running towards them, they raced off in the other direction. The man stopped and knelt by Steven. "Are you all right?"

Steven slowly nodded, taking a mental inventory of his bruises to be. "Yeah, a little sore is all." He tried to stand, but it hurt to bend.

"Let me help you." He let Steven lean on him for support. "We should get you to a doctor. Where are you staying?"

"L'Hermitage. I was on my way there."

"That's too far for you in your condition. I'll take you to the Paris. They should be able to call a doctor from there."

The man took Steven to the Hotel de Paris where the manager took him to a private parlor to lie down while he sent for a porter. "Call for Dr. Thierry."

The porter went through the lobby and café calling for the hotel doctor.

Genevieve and her father were sitting with him and he went to meet the porter. "Where is this man who needs a doctor?"

"This way, Dr. Thierry." The porter escorted Dr. Jonteau to the parlor and Genevieve and her father followed.

"What exactly happened here?" asked Dr. Thierry.

"Is he all right?" Genevieve asked

Steven recognized the voice and groaned inwardly. "I was set on by two men in a passageway."

Jonteau came forward and could not believe his eyes. "M. Townshend! Genevieve was right. She did see you last night."

Thierry unbuttoned Steven's shirt and softly touched Steven's ribcage. "How does that feel?"

"A little tender."

"I don't think you have any broken ribs. I'll wrap you up, but I think you should get an X-ray." He helped Steven sit up and take off his shirt.

While Steven was getting his chest banaged, Jonteau took advantage and asked a question that had been nagging him. "Where did you disappear to, M. Townshend? Genevieve and I searched for you, but could find no trace of you aside from your articles."

"You actually looked for me? Why?"

"You saved our lives, Simon," said Genevieve from the doorway. "We felt we owed you something. Why did you disappear like that?"

Steven picked up his shirt and slowly stood. "Look, I think we need to get something straight. In case you haven't guessed, Simon Townshend is not my real name. I was in Paris for purely selfish reasons. I was there to steal the art treasures. With the Gestapo suspicious of me and hearing your story, I guess I went soft and helped you. I took a few little things for myself and left. I knew I should have left some word, but in my position it was too risky."

"You said that Townshend is not your real name. What is it?"

During his earlier tirade, he had moved towards the door. "Steven Taylor." He shut the door behind him.

Upon arriving at his hotel, he stormed through the lobby, ignoring all the stares at his dishabille. He went up to his suite and poured himself a drink to calm down. He didn't know which was worse: being beat up or seeing the Jonteaux. It was a close race. He eased himself into a chair on the balcony, looked out at the sea and breathed deep.

Once he was relaxed, he realized he hadn't been kind to Genevieve and her father. His nerves had already been on edge from the beating by the time he faced them. What was it that those two men wanted him to do? They said they wanted him to steal for them, but what? Not that he was going to, of course, but if he knew he might be able to stop it. He wasn't sure what good he'd be with his ribs aching like they did. He winced as they pained him again. Knowing it wasn't smart to take painkillers with alcohol, he decided to put up with the pain until he finished the drink.

When he was done, he slowly stood and walked to the bathroom to look in the mirror. He was pale under his new tan, his bottom lip was swollen and bloody, and bruises were beginning to show on his face. He unbuttoned his shirt and slowly took it off. Dr. Jonteau had done a decent job of bandaging considering he wasn't a medical doctor. A few bruises were starting to show and they were tender to the touch. He opened his medicine cabinet and took out one of the over-the-counter drugs he always carried with him in case of his leg acting up or a major headache. He swallowed a couple of pills with a glass of water before fixing his shirt. He ran a hand through his hair to make himself presentable. Having time to kill, he thought he might write some postcards home. He wasn't sure, but he thought he saw some downstairs in the lobby. If not, the clerk would tell him where to find some. He pulled his wallet out of his pocket and suddenly realized those would-be thieves were. Even though he knew they didn't intend to rob him but merely "persuade" him, they should have taken the wallet to make it look like a robbery.

He was selecting postcards in the small souvenir shop when Harry found him. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, fine. Why do you ask?"

"You came through the lobby like a tornado, you look like hell, and you tell me nothing's happened."

"No, I never said that. I just said I felt fine." He paid for the cards and headed upstairs, Harry following.

In the lift, Harry asked him for the full story. "It's my fault you're here."

"Harry, this would have happened eventually, somewhere else if not here. The first thing, anyway."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Two very interesting and totally unconnected things happened to me when I left the Cafe de Paris."

"You were at the competition? How could you?"

"Do you want to know what happened or not?"

"Sorry."

"I was cutting through a passage when I was jumped by two guys who proceeded to pound on my ribcage."

"Did they steal anything?"

"Not yet," answered Steven as he unlocked the door to his suite. Harry closed the door behind him and looked to Steven for explanations. "They knew me and what I used to do. They heard that I was invited by the prince to the gala and they wanted me to steal for them. I refused and they beat me."

"You said there were two things. What was the other?"

"Part of this you have to promise to keep a secret. Okay?"

"Yeah, sure. Anything."

"A man chased off the 'thieves' and took me back to the Paris because it was closer. They put me in a private parlor while they got a doctor. The doctor they found was Jonteau."

"I didn't know he was a medical doctor."

"He's not. Anyway, he recognized me and bound my ribs." Harry attempted to interrupt, but Steven wouldn't let him. "Genevieve came in and asked why I left them without a word. I told them that my original intention was to steal the treasures for myself. They thought I worked for the government so I let them. I did take a few silver miniatures and left them in Bern."

"Hold on, you were Townshend?"

"Yeah. Anything wrong with that?"

"Don't get so defensive. I'm just wondering why you didn't tell anyone."

"Why? From what I've heard, everybody's ready to canonize him. When they find out he was just a thief there for his own selfish purposes, what do you think they'll do?"

"You speak as if he's a totally different person. You are Townshend."

Steven eased himself into a chair. "I know, but sometimes it feels like Townshend and my other aliases have lives of their own. I create pasts for them and I guess I get too involved. Sometimes I wonder if that is the sign of a sane man."

"You're not crazy--not in that respect, anyway. What do you plan to do about those guys that beat you?"

"I'm not going to steal for them, if that's what you mean. They can't cause me any more bodily harm 'cos then I won't be of any use to them. What I'll do is keep any eye out on anything they might be thinking of stealing." He took out his postcards and began to write.

Harry knew this was a sign that the conversation was at an end. "Pick you up tonight at 9:00?"

"Yeah. See you then."

***********************************************

Genevieve sat in the chair opposite her father. "Why didn't he tell us, Papa? We were in no position to tell on him."

"Yes, but how was he to know what the future held in store for him? He intended to carry on in his profession and he needed to protect his alias. Why he didn't come forward after the war, I don't know. Perhaps it was because of all the attention we brought to it. What he said about being a thief, that was true. He did most of his work in England and America before the war. They said he began when he was 17."

"How old is he now? 26? 27? That means he's be doing it for close to ten years! Incroyable."

"The police caught up with him and he was sent to prison in 1942. It was his knowledge of languages and his experience as a thief that got him out and into the war. The rest is general knowledge."

"Where did you learn all this?"

"Newspapers. I researched at the library. I knew how much you like him and I wanted to find out all I could about him."

"Oh, Papa, you're wonderful!" She hugged him and started to prepare for the evening.

************************************************

That night at the Casino, people who had discovered by word-of-mouth that he was in town mobbed Steven. To him it seemed that all of Monaco and half of France were there. He was uncomfortable with the attention and tried to escape. "The price of fame," remarked Harry with a smile.

Steven felt that if he had to smile any longer, his face would crack. This must be what was meant by the downside of fame; you got to be with the "beautiful" people only to realize that up close they really weren't that beautiful. They seemed to be just like everyone else, wanting to hold onto your coattails and become famous the easy way. It was hard to find someone who wanted to be friends for all the right reasons.

Over someone's head, he saw the Jonteaux enter. Feeling he ought to apologize, he knew he needed a diversion to get away from the crowd. He caught Harry's eye and he nodded. "Hey, isn't that Maurice Chevalier?" While all heads were turned, Steven made his escape. "Sorry," Harry apologized. "It looked like him."

Steven made his way across the Casino to the Jonteaux. "Good evening, Doctor, Genevieve."

"Mr. Taylor." Dr. Jonteau looked at the two of them. "Excuse me, I think I see someone I know." He left them alone.

"I didn't know he had any friends here," said Genevieve as she watched her father's retreating back.

"It seems a lot of people are seeing things today," Steven commented. "I'd like to talk to you if I may."

"We're not supposed to know each other, Mr. Taylor. People would stare if they saw us tête-à-tête."

"Not here, out on the terrace." Steven took her by the arm and gently led her out. "I'd like to apologize for my behavior earlier."

"I understand, but--"

"No, please let me finish." She sat down on the balustrade. "I know I should have told you the truth about myself, but at the time anonymity was the only thing between me and a long jail sentence. Besides, would you and your father have trusted me if I had told you I was a thief?"

She smiled. "No, I guess not."

"As for this afternoon, I had a lot on my mind and I was in a bit of pain."

"How are you? Does it still hurt?"

"Not as much as before." He put a hand to his ribs. "Your father does a good job. A little nap helped, too."

A waiter came up with two glasses of champagne. "Compliments of the house, sir, for you and the young lady."

"Thank you." Steven placed a tip on the tray. "Are you doing anything tomorrow?" he asked as the waiter left.

"Not really."

"How would you like to go to the beach or have a picnic or something?"

"That would be lovely."

"Great. I'll meet you at your hotel room tomorrow morning."

They went back inside and the light caused Steven's eyes to burn and water. Genevieve felt him tense. "What's the matter?"

"The lights hurt my eyes. They had adjusted to the dark and now they've gone haywire."

"And it's only regular bulbs. Is that why you wear dark sunglasses?"

"If I didn't, I could suffer a relapse and go blind." He blinked a few times. "I'm okay now." He took out his handkerchief and wiped his eyes. He finished his champagne. "Care for a refill?"

II


The following morning Steven felt better than he had in a long time. He had told Harry of his plans as they walked home and Harry said that he would have the kitchen prepare a picnic for him. Steven went into the bathroom and started to unwrap his bandage. There were a few bruises and it was still tender to the touch. A nice warm shower would help. He stepped into the stall and let the water massage the pain away--temporarily at least. He whistled a bright tune that seemed to be a mix of any French song he could think of from Les Marseillaise to Sur la Pont d'Avignon. He wrapped himself in a complimentary robe then shaved and combed his hair before dressing casually for a picnic.

He went downstairs to the front desk so Harry could see how well he had recovered from yesterday. He wasn't there but the clerk sent a bellboy for him. Five minutes later, Harry came in the front door. "My, don't we look spiffy this morning."

"I don't think I've ever been called spiffy before. But I am in such a good mood today it doesn't matter. How often does one get to have a picnic in Monte Carlo with a beautiful girl?"

"Only you, Taylor, could pull off something like this. Your car is in the front with the picnic basket."

"You're a real pal, Harry. Thanks."

Steven hopped into the car and drove over to the Hotel de Paris. He pulled up to the front entrance and told the valet that he was there just to pick someone up. The doorman gave him a salute as he opened the door. Steven smiled and thanked him. He went to the elevator and went up to the Jonteaux suite.

Dr. Jonteau answered after Steven's knock. "Oh, M. Taylor. Is anything wrong?"

"No, nothing. What makes you ask?" He stepped into the sitting room. "Where's Genevieve?"

"Isn't she with you?"

"Why would she be? I told her I'd meet her here." He was beginning to worry. "What happened?"

"She received a message from you saying that you'd meet her at the Jardins Exotique." He slowly lowered himself into a chair. "You didn't send it, did you?"

"No, I didn't. How did you receive the message?"

"The front desk told us. What do you think happened to her, M. Taylor?"

"I think this stems from my beating. The two men who did it wanted me to steal for them. I refused and now I think they're using her to blackmail me. What I don't understand is how they knew our plans in the first place."

"What are you going to do?"

"I'm not sure. I need to think this out."

The telephone range and Dr. Jonteau answered it. "Yes. Genevieve! Are you all right? Have they hurt you?" Steven rushed over and stood beside him. "Yes, I'll put him on." Jonteau handed over the phone.

"Taylor here."

"Bonjour, M. Eagle. What a lovely day for a picnic. Too bad you cannot enjoy it."

"You'd better not hurt her."

"She will be returned as soon as you do what we ask."

"Which is?"

"Tonight at the Gala, you will have the opportunity to see many of the rich and their little trinkets."

"So?"

"You will relieve them of their worries and then drive alone to Roqubrune where the exchange will take place. Until tonight." He hung up.

Steven slowly replaced the receiver and looked at Jonteau. "They want me to steal for them tonight at the Gala in return for Genevieve's safety."

"That is blackmail!" cried Jonteau.

"Yes, it is." Steven walked over to the window and stared out. What was he going to do? Five years ago, there would have been no doubt in his mind. An opportunity to rub shoulders with the jet-set and steal all those quality gems at once needed no second guessing. Now that he was trying to reform, the idea didn't hold the same appeal. However, if he didn't, Genevieve would be hurt. "I'm going to go through with it."

"How could you manage such a thing? You would need to notify the police."

"No police. These guys would smell a uniform. If they knew about my plans with Genevieve, they'll know if I talk to the police. I think I have a much better idea."

An hour later, Steven and Dr. Jonteau were in the Palace awaiting an audience with the Prince. Steven was tempted to pace but knew that would be in poor taste. He looked over at Jonteau and saw him wringing his hands. He said a silent prayer of thanks that it wasn't Victoria. Rainier welcomed them warmly. "Dr. Jonteau, M. Taylor, what a surprise to see you together. What is so urgent about the Gala tonight that made you wish to see me?"

"Thieves are planning to steal everyone's jewels," answered Steven.

"What?"

"Perhaps I'd better explain." Steven told of his beating through to an hour ago when they received the phone call. He left out that he was Townshend.

"This is terrible," said the prince. "I shall have the police scour the country for her. Such behavior is..." He struggled for a word.

"Criminal?" supplied Steven. "The police are the last thing we need. I'd like to go through with this in order to find Genevieve. What I'd like to ask you may sound a bit strange." He paused.

"Go on."

"If you could notify some of the social elite and tell them to wear their imitations so I can steal them. The thieves will take my word that the gems are real. We make the switch and get Genevieve while sticking the others with fakes."

"Are you sure it will work?" asked Rainier.

"It can be done. I might have to prepare for a few contingencies. I can't say there won't be problems, there's always that possibility."

"I'm willing to trust him," said Jonteau.

Rainier looked at the two of them and saw how much faith Jonteau placed in the younger man. "Very well. I will notify the proper people."

"Thank you, Your Highness," said Steven.

"Until tonight then."

Steven walked outside behind Jonteau, his mind working on how to put his plan into action. He was quiet during the ride and Jonteau left him alone. Outside the Hotel de Paris, Steven finally spoke. "Don't worry, Doctor, they won't do anything to her. I'll see you tonight." He drove off leaving the doctor standing at the doorway, staring at the vanishing car.

************************************************

Later that evening as Steven was preparing to leave for the Gala, there was a knock on the door. "Just a minute!" he called. He hid his knife and velvet bag under the pillow. Realizing it would be quite proper to open the door bare-chested, he grabbed his shirt and hastily buttoned it. He opened the door. "Victoria. What a surprise."

Victoria planted a kiss on his cheek as she entered the suite. "What style," she said appreciatively. "How did you manage it?"

"Beats me. I didn't expect this." He backed into the room. "What are you doing here?"

"You invited me, remember?" she said as she put down her weekend bag. "I took a train from Paris." She noticed his crookedly buttoned shirt. "Big night tonight?"

"Friday Gala. I've been invited by Prince Rainier."

"You don't sound too excited."

"Yeah, well, I've got some other things on my mind."

"What's the matter? What are you up to?"

"Nothing," he said too quickly with a glance at the pillow.

Victoria went over to the bed and reached under the pillow. "In that case, what are you doing with these?"

"You'd have to know sooner or later." He told his story once again.

"So that's what you're doing tonight."

"Yes, I really have no choice."

"Fine. After I shower and change we can go."

"We?"

"Just think of me as a window dressing. No one would suspect you. Besides, why would I pass up a chance like this?"

When they arrived at the Sporting Club, the doorman helped Victoria out of the car as Steven handed the keys to the valet. He put his arm out and she wrapped hers about it. "Just play along with me, okay? There are a few people in on it."

"I think I might be in shock anyway."

The maitre d' approached them, and, after learning who they were, led them to the royal table. The prince and his entourage had not yet arrived. The waiter brought over champagne--Dom Perrignon--and hors d'oeuvres. Victoria looked around the terrace, eyes wide. "Just look at all those gorgeous gowns. I feel so underdressed."

"You look beautiful. They're just trying to compensate in clothes what they're lacking in looks."

"What a compliment," she remarked with a laugh.

The band began to play the Monegasque anthem and everyone stood. Victoria gripped Steven's hand as the prince approached. He squeezed back. Rainier smiled and held out his hand. "Bon soir, M. Taylor."

"Your Highness." Steven shook his hand. "May I present Miss Victoria Bond."

"Ah, yes, Mr. Churchill's ward. Enchante." Victoria bobbed a little curtsey.

They sat down and the band began playing again. They made small talk, avoiding the topic that was uppermost in their minds. When they were on the dance-floor, Victoria broached the subject. "Well, when are you going to do it?"

"Do what?"

"You know. Steal." She practically hissed the word.

"I'm working on it now. Can't you tell?"

"No."

"I can't just take them. I need to know who has what then wait for a diversion." He looked at his watch over her shoulder. "Just a few more minutes. When it starts, stay on the dance-floor a few seconds before going to the table. The prince will take care of you."

"You can't mean to leave me?"

"You told me yourself you would be window dressing." He smiled. "You volunteered."

The lights throughout the club went out. The crush started. He pecked her on the cheek and left. Surprised at his sudden departure, Victoria stood on the floor a few moments before finding her way through the crowd to the royal table. "Left you in the middle of a dance, did he? Come with me, Mlle. Bond. I will take you back to your hotel if you wish."

"I guess so, considering Steven will be gone for most of the night." She walked with the prince to the front entrance. "Do you think it will work?"

"I hope so. Mlle. Jonteau is quite a charming young lady."

Victoria almost started to feel jealous before realizing that Steven was just a modern-day knight errant rescuing a damsel in distress. She smiled at the thought. Her eyes wandered about the car park and spotted Steven's rented car. She slipped away from the prince and rushed over. As he stopped behind another car, she climbed in.

He turned around. "What are you doing here? I thought I told you to stay with the prince."

"And miss out on the fun? Besides, my role as window dressing includes leaving with you as your date." She faced forward. "You can go now."

Steven moved the car forward out of the car park and onto the road. "I should take you right back to the hotel, but Lord only knows what you'd get into."

He turned the car onto the Grand Corniche. "Where are we going?"

"Roqbrune for the exchange. I took a drive earlier this afternoon so I know the general layout of the place."

Victoria tilted her head back and looked at the cloudless summer sky. "One could almost forget crime on a night like this. If you were average, we'd be sitting drinking wine by candlelight in some cafe."

Steven laughed. "Average?"

"It's the only word I could think of."

"Do you regret it?"

"No. How many women can say they took part of a rescue while in Monaco?"

"Only one that I can think of." He pulled off the corniche and traveled along a narrow road. The only lights were from the car's headlights. Steven stopped the car in front of castle ruins.

"They certainly know how to pick out-of-the-way places," remarked Victoria.

Steven took a flashlight out of the glove compartment. "You stay here and keep the car running. We may need to leave in a hurry."

"Do you have the jewels?"

He patted his jacket pocket. "And before you ask, yes, I brought protection."

"Be careful." She kissed him before he got out of the car.

"I will." He winked and quietly closed the door. He switched on the light and slowly entered the ruins.

In the car, Victoria mused over what life would be like with a man who constantly seemed to attract trouble--and women. It certainly wasn't his fault that trouble followed him. It had gotten worse since everyone now knew who he was. As for the women, well, she could just consider herself one of the lucky ones. At least she has the closest thing resembling an understanding--going on three years.

Steven walked into the courtyard, his footsteps echoing. He shined the light into the doorways and along the parapets checking for armed men. "You'll find no one in hiding, M. Taylor."

Steven turned and saw a man holding a lamp that cast just enough shadow to hide his face. Steven was tempted to point the flashlight at him, but knew that it might turn the deal sour. "Where's the girl?"

"Safe. What about the jewels?"

Steven walked forward, met the man halfway and spread them out on a table-like rock. The man set down the lamp and held up a sapphire and diamond earring. "C'est magnifique."

"Of course, to get the full effect, you need a brighter light."

"I have one here." The man turned a switch before Steven could react.

He found himself staring into a tremendously bright light before turning away. "Merde!" With his face still turned away, he reached blindly for the jewels.

"Did you forget your sunglasses?" he laughed. "Is that too bright for you?"

"You had this all planned out, didn't you? You're here to blind me while your friend watches Genevieve." Steven slipped any jewels he could reach into his pocket.

"Someone has finally brought down the Eagle. This is too good an opportunity to pass up."

Steven heard a click and knew the shot was coming. He attempted to get away, but as he couldn't see, he stumbled into a corner. He said a quick prayer to make his peace then waited for the shot. When it finally came, Steven realized he was still alive. The guy couldn't be that bad a shot. He felt his way back out, facing away from the light.

"Steven, are you all right?" Victoria ran over and grabbed his arm.

"I can't see. The damn lights. Are you okay? I heard a shot."

"I'm fine. I think I winged him."

"When did you learn to use a gun?"

"If I'm going to hang around with you, I thought I'd better learn. Let me take you back to the car."

"The jewels, what about the jewels?"

"They're only fakes."

"If I leave them behind, the kidnappers will know they're fake and they might take it out on Genevieve."

"Okay, stay here, I'll go get them." Victoria ran over to the stone and scooped up the jewels then put them in Steven's pocket. "All right, take it slowly." She led him along the rough path back to the car.

"You'll have to drive. Can you find your way?"

"I think so. If I have any questions, I'll give you landmarks."

They returned to Monte Carlo without any trouble and Victoria headed for the Hotel de Paris. "Stay here, I won't be too long." She left before Steven had a chance to question her. She went to the front desk. "What room is Dr. Jonteau in?"

"318, mademoiselle."

"Thank you." Victoria took the lift, rushed down the hall to the doctor's suite, and knocked on the door. Jonteau answered. "I know we haven't met, but I went with Steven Taylor this evening to rescue your daughter."

"Genevieve. Is she all right? Where is she?"

"They tricked us. She wasn't there. They shined a bright light in Steven's eyes. He can't see."

"Where is he?"

"Down in the car. Please, come look at him. I know you're not a medical doctor, but it would make me feel better." She explained what happened. "I didn't tell him I was getting you so he might be angry."

Angry was an understatement. "Why did you bring him? I know what to do about my eyes. Just keep them in the dark and let them heal on their own."

"If you know what to do, then my looking at them won't hurt," said Jonteau, getting into the car.

"Let him do it, Steven, for me if not for you," said Victoria. "It may be more serious than you think." Steven reluctantly gave in to the pressure.

Upon arriving at L'Hermitage, they tried to escort Steven through the lobby before anyone noticed. "There you are," called Harry as he met them at the elevator. "I couldn't get to the Gala until late and they were trying to figure why the power went out. You were already gone." The elevator doors opened and Jonteau and Victoria helped Steven inside. "What's going on? What's wrong?"

"Harry, shut up and get in. I'll explain on the way up."

Harry stepped into the lift and Steven, after introductions, filled him in on the kidnapping and the attempted rescue. "What are you going to do now?" Harry asked as they walked down the hall to the suite. "You can't see and you don't know where they have Genevieve."

"They still want the jewels," answered Steven as he took out his key and handed it to Victoria. "I'm sure they'll try and make contact again."

************************************************************************

"Louis! You idiot! How could you let him get away?"

"I did just what you said, Henri. I turned the light on directly into his eyes. He crawled away and I almost had him, but then someone shot me. I didn't see who."

"But what about the jewels? Did he have the jewels?"

"Yes, I even held one in my hand. I was going to pick them up after, but I didn't want to risk getting killed."

"I guess he doesn't want the girl back. Otherwise he would have come alone as we asked." Henri walked to another room and looked in. Genevieve was sitting on the floor bound and gagged.

"I don't think he knew the other person was there. He was ready to go through with it."

"Now that he's blind, we have the advantage. We have to work fast before he recovers."

*****************************************************************************

The next morning while breakfasting on the balcony, Victoria read an account of the "theft" from the newspaper. "'The police discovered that a fuse had blown and the thief used it to his advantage.' If only they had known you planned it."

"It's nice having friends in low places." He carefully poured a cup of coffee, resting the spout on the rim. "Does it give an estimated worth?"

Victoria looked over the article. "Close to one million francs. The newspapers think that the originals were taken."

"Rainier told the 'victims' not to let on that they were paste copies. Our friends are probably reading the paper, too. What else does it say?"

"It gives a description of some of the pieces and names some of the guests--including us." She put down the paper. "Do you think they'll do anything to Genevieve because of last night?"

"No. They still want the gems and know I won't give them over until I know she's safe. Would you mind putting some cream in this?"

Victoria put a splash of cream in his cup. "Would you recognize that man again?"

"Definitely, that's why he won't be involved again. The other I might recognize by his voice I think he's the leader of the two. What bothers me is how they found out about our plans. There was no one around at the time but-- That's it! Listen to this and tell me what you think. Now, I think our friends are locals because they have a good idea of the layout. That ruin was the ideal place for what they had planned. I had told Genevieve about my eyes after we had planned our picnic. These guys had to be there to hear it."

"But locals aren't allowed into the Casino."

"To gamble, but where do they get the staff?"

"Your waiter. The one who brought the champagne. But how did he get in?"

"He might be a real waiter with a sideline. If not, it's pretty easy to fake references. I did it myself a couple of times. The thing is, will he stay there to try and contact me again?"

"If he's as desperate as you think, I'm sure he will."

There was a knock on the door. "Come in!" called Steven.

Harry walked in and joined them on the balcony. "Just coming to check how you were doing this morning."

"I still can't see, but I'm feeling better about it."

"He has an idea of who's behind it," put in Victoria.

"Really? Tell me."

Steven repeated what he had told Victoria. "I have a plan, but I'll need the help of both of you and Dr. Jonteau."

That evening Victoria and Jonteau mingled with the Casino crowd as planned. After a sufficient length of time, they went out onto the terrace and acted as if they had to speak privately. "Do you think this will work?" asked the doctor.

"Most of Steven's ideas work," she answered. "Just keep an eye on the waiters."

A few moments later, Jonteau gave a slight nod. "So, M. Taylor has found Genevieve?"

"Yes. We followed the man last night to where they were hiding her. He's going there tonight to get her back."

"C'est magnifique! But I thought he was having trouble with his eyes."

"He just pretended so no one would pay him any attention. He says you have to anticipate your opposition's moves."

"He should know." Jonteau looked over Victoria's shoulder. "I think he believed us. He's gone."

"Our part is done, then. All we can do now is wait."

************************************************************

"One of the waiters is leaving," Harry whispered loudly.

"I'm not deaf," Steven answered. "Don't lose him."

"Oui, mon capitain." Harry followed the car as it made its way to the old section of town. "What are you going to do once we get there?"

"I'll try and come up with a diversion so you can get Genevieve."

"I may be a bit rusty."

"You never lose the knack, Harry. Just get her out when you see the opportunity."

Harry slowed as the car pulled into a narrow cobbled street. "He's gone into a house on the far end."

"Single home or flats?"

"Single. Do you think she's being kept in the attic?"

"There's a good chance of it. These guys don't have much imagination. I'm sure there's a back way you can use." Steven smiled. "You'd better get goin', Harry. The sooner you start, the sooner you finish."

"Thanks a lot." Harry stepped out of the car and crept down the street towards the house then went around to the back. He could feel the adrenaline flowing and knew Steven was right: you never do lose the knack. He tried the door and found it unlocked. He stopped when he heard voices.

"Have you seen anyone suspicious, Louis?"

"No, Henri. It's been very quiet. Why?"

"I over heard a conversation at the Casino that he followed you here last night and is on his way now to get the girl." Henri peeked out the window. "Go check on the girl."

"I just did."

"Do it again."

Harry heard footsteps approaching and knew it was Louis going to check on Genevieve. He quietly opened the door and followed him up the stairs. Louis stopped in front of a door, inserted a key, and opened it. Harry crept up behind him and knocked him out. Genevieve looked at him, hope in her eyes. "I'm here to rescue you," he told her, removing the gag from her mouth.

"But who are you? Where is M. Taylor?"

"It's a long story." Harry used the ropes that had bound her to tie up Louis. "C'mon, we have to hurry before the other comes looking." He grabbed her by the hand and headed cautiously down the steps.

"Louis! What is keeping you, man?" Henri, worried about Steven's rumored presence, was climbing the stairs. He saw the two sneaking down and pulled out a gun. "And where might you be going?"

Steven, tired of waiting in the car, made his way to the house based on Harry's description of its placement and by sounds and a cane that Jonteau had given him. As he got closer, he could sense something was wrong. Harry should have been out by now. He slowly opened the back door and went inside. He then heard voices and guessed he was by stairs by the sound of them. One of the voices belonged to the other man who had beaten him. "And where might you be going?"

"A gun?" That was Harry. "I thought you preferred your fists."

"I do not know who you are, monsieur, but I assume you are a friend of M. Taylor's. How is his sight?"

"He sees more things than most people. If you aren't going to use that thing, why don't you put it away."

"Mlle. Jonteau is still important to me, but for you I have no use."

Steven knew that he had to try something. He slid his knife into his hand and stood still to listen and to sense where the kidnapper stood. When he was sure, he threw the knife and was rewarded by voracious swearing in French. Harry picked up the gun that had fallen from Henri's hand. "How the hell did you do that?"

"Where did I hit him?" Steven leaned on the wall.

"You mean you do not know?" asked Genevieve.

Steven turned his head slightly to where he guessed she stood. "I had a relapse thanks to him and his friend. Where did I hit him?"

"In the lower back," answered Harry. "Genevieve, why don't you go find some rope so can tie him up like his friend."

As Henri was tied up, Steven said, "I think there are a few phone calls we need to make."

After the police had taken Henri and Louis, the three drove back to L'Hermitage and went up to Steven's suite. Victoria and Dr. Jonteau were waiting. "Papa!" Genevieve ran into her father's outstretched arms.

Victoria went to Steven and helped him to a chair. "How did it go?" Steven and Harry told the story with Genevieve adding her perspective. "But how did you know where he was?"

"The best way to describe it is that when I was a kid, I used to lie in bed in the morning and pretend to still be asleep. Sometimes my aunt would come in to get the laundry and I could tell where she was by listening."

"But how could you be sure you wouldn't hit Harry or Genevieve?"

"They were on the stairs coming down and by the sound of his voice I knew the kidnapper was closer which meant the knife would reach him first. If not, Harry would see it coming."

"This is the second time you have helped us, M. Taylor. How can we thank you?" asked Jonteau.

"I think it was my fault that Genevieve was kidnapped in the first place. They used her to get to me."

"What do you mean 'the second time'?" asked Victoria.

"She doesn't know?" asked Genevieve.

"No one did until I came to Monaco."

"What are you talking about?"

"I was Townshend."

"You?" She couldn't believe it. "But why didn't you tell anyone?"

"They were all prepared to canonize him for helping the Jonteaux out of France. How could I tell them that I was there purely for selfish reasons? Besides, some would probably think I was just trying to get more attention."

There was a knock on the door. "That must be the newspaper I asked for," said Victoria.

"I'll get it." Harry went to answer the door.

"Now that I've told you, it's not to go outside these walls. Agreed?"

"Agreed," the others said in unison.

"I'm afraid you're too late," said Harry returning with a copy of Le Figaro. "Take a look at this." He handed the paper to Genevieve.

She looked at the front page which showed an old photograph of Steven sitting with Genevieve at a cafe in Paris. TOWNSHEND IS EAGLE! went the headline. "I don't believe it."

"What is it?" asked Steven.

"Remember Gaston? I guess all the publicity surrounding the art treasures sent him searching through mementos. He found a picture of us at the cafe. He also told the paper you were Townshend."

"Soon the whole world will know," moaned Steven.

"So much for secrets," remarked Harry.

"It would have come out sooner or later," said Victoria.

"Yeah, but why couldn't it have been when I was on my deathbed?"

"But now you don't have to guard your words," said Jonteau.

"Maybe I should do a press release so I won't get asked the same questions over and over. Someone get me a pen and paper!"

Profile

SPN Dean Writing
blazoningpen
blazoningpen

Latest Month

June 2017
S M T W T F S
    123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
252627282930 
Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Witold Riedel