The Cardinal's Sin - chapter 11 - The Fence

The Fence

La Motte stood, knocking back his chair and knocking over his drink. The man on the other side of the table, opened his eye, dropped his loupe into his hand, and looked at la Motte calmly.

“Fake? What do you mean, fake?” La Motte demanded.

“I mean the stones are glass, not stones, and the thread is cotton and the links are base metal, it’s a fake. It’s a very good fake, an expensive fake, but it’s a fake.”

La Motte’s mouth opened about to speak, and closed, several times, and he blinked, he blinked quite a bit.

“But I took it from their own hands, they were in their own carriage, in front of some churchman or other, he was all in red, for God’s sake. It couldn’t be, that’s almost a sin, right there.”

The man with the loupe looked again at the necklace, but then shrugged. He was short, with small eyes and pronounced whiskers. His movements were deliberate, and always seemed on the verge of performing a magical trick. Perhaps this was the reason he had a whispered reputation, as an alchemist, maybe even a wizard. Some said, he had been to the future, others, that he could travel from country to country in minutes. This evening, Cagliostro was being what he was most of his time in Paris, a trafficker in stolen goods, a fence.

“They were coming back from Court, I was told they were presenting it to the Queen. Are you telling me they tried to palm off a fake, to the Queen?”

“No. I’m telling you this necklace, is a fake, beautiful, sparkly, and fake. It isn’t that uncommon. You can hardly stop to check if what they are giving you is real, they wouldn’t offer any sort of guarantee. Sometimes, they even stock them in the vaults at their workshops, stops people wrecking the place, if they think they have what they came for.”

He waved his hand in the air, waving away La Motte’s pain. The highwayman slumped in his chair. He then sat up, brightened a little,

“It’s a very good fake you say?”

“The best.”

“Expensive, Monsieur Cagliostro?”

“Oh yes, they took a lot of care with this, nothing cheap about it. You were taken in by the very best, no shame in that.”

“So, if it’s so, how much would you give me for it?”

Cagliostro gave la Motte a long stare, shook his head.

“Nothing, not one sou, Monsieur.”

“But you said.”

“If this were the real thing, it could be broken up. The larger, more recognisable stones recut, the smaller ones sold or made into something else and then sold. This, is expensive to make, but unsellable in its current form and worthless if it’s broken up.”

“Would no one buy it?”

“How could they wear it? It would instantly bring down the interest of the authorities.”

La Motte stared at it, and bit his thumb, and shook his head. He then laughed, and stuffed his hands in the large pockets of his coat. He frowned, and drew out and looked at, the purse he found inside. He weighed it in his hand. He seemed to think it promising, and he loosened the string at its neck. He spilled the contents onto the table, and a small, but respectable, heap of gold coin sat in front of him. He stared, and a smile began to break over his face. Picking up one coin he threw it to Cagliostro, who, catching it, he too smiled.

“I do believe this is genuine, Monsieur. The churchman?”

“The churchman. A sure sign of God’s indulgence toward a poor sinner.”

Cagliostro held up the coin,

“I think this will buy us supper.”

La Motte held up another,

“And this some decent wine.”

A few hours later they have eaten heartily, and drunk heavily. La Motte looked at the empty cup in his hand, and frowned, then looked up.

“They say if the wine is good you don’t get a hangover Monsieur, do you think it’s true?”

Cagliostro drained his cup and, like his companion, examined the cup. He considered the proposition, then slowly, he leaned forward.

“I think we will find out in a few hours.”

“Yes, but will we find out if good wine leaves you free of a heavy head or, if this was not good wine, eh?”

Cagliostro looked at the cup again, really looked at it then up again at his companion, and shook his head slowly before slouching back against the back of the bench. La Motte looked around himself, and leaned in closer across the table, now much more sober than he had seemed a few seconds before.

“Tell me, what do I have to do to get that,” he looked round again, “piece?”

Cagliostro thought, and watched la Motte, maybe weighing him up. He too leaned closer and shook his head.

“You can’t, not now. Maybe not ever. Two attempts so close together, that was clever by the way, they wouldn’t have expected that, but careful men, Boehmer and Bassenge, that fake,” and he leant back shaking his head and wagging his finger, “on their guard now. They’ll get you if you try now, can’t afford not to.”

La Motte slid backwards, and took the deepest of deep breaths, lifted both arms and dropped them again.

“You’re right, I know it. Damn, so close. But Rochefort was nearly on me, no time, never enough time. Do you think he’s following me?”

“I think he is watching out for you now, twice is no coincidence. You have to be careful, dangerous fellow Rochefort, well-connected.”

“Nothing for it, I’ll have to start thinking of something else, do you think I should go on the stage? I have a fine voice.”

Cagliostro examined him, then leant forward and squinted, before slouching back.

“No, too old, they like ‘em young these days, like ‘em very young.”

La Motte looked mournfully at the table and shook his head.

“I had such hopes, and I’m washed up at thirty-one. Let’s get more wine.”

A few tables away a man, dressed in a uniform strikingly similar to Rochefort’s has a glass in front of him, but his is filled with water. He watched carefully, and took notes in a small book.

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