The Shadow of the Past
This soldier had been on the graveyard shift. There were eight of them, three hours each. Orders were, alternate between the doors from this side of the street, to the other, and change ends at least once a shift. Trouble with that was, if it rained, this was the only door that gave you some shelter, and let you see the door to the apartments. He didn’t even know what they were doing. Seemed a typical bunch of aristos to him, with their coming and going, in fact, he thought, they didn’t go out as much as most of them seem to. Must be broke. Perhaps that’s it. This la Motte guy, owes the boss some money, or something. There was a rumour about a necklace, and a barney between them, but that was a few years ago. Whatever it was, the women were decorative, he’d fancy a turn with them if it came to it. He hadn’t had an aristo yet, a few of the boys said they weren’t really worth it, but he wasn’t so sure.
He was tired and cold and fed up. He wasn’t watching. Three men, in Gendarmes uniforms grabbed him, as the was walking down the street after he’d been relieved. They hadn’t hit him much or anything, just let him know they could. Now, he was looking at a commandant or someone, an officer bigwig anyway, swinging his leg over the end of the table. They think they are so… Give him five minutes alone with this guy, and they’d see. He had a young lieutenant and a sargeant, with him.
“So, what are you? Corporal? I never know with you horse lovers.” The officer asked.
He waited. No reply.
“Look sonny, I can call in six big ones and leave them with you for say, five minutes, or you can just answer up. You’ve not done any particular thing, yet. But then, when has that ever been a guarantee you’re not going to be told, you’ve done something wrong? So, rank?”
The soldier, arms tightly folded across his chest, was about to spit, but then he just wondered, why?
“Your commander is Rochefort, yes?”
“That’s right, and when he hears about this…”
“Funny you say that, in fact he’s going to hear about it, from me. I just want the lay of the land first, and don’t worry, your name won’t come up.”
“You’re so kind.”
“You’d be surprised. Anyway, I want to know what you’re about?”
“Been given a job by the boss, haven’t I?”
The corporal shrugged, “Just watch, let him know who goes in, who goes out.”
“you tell Rochefort?”
The Corporal pulled a face, “No. He wouldn’t talk to the likes of me. The sargeant tells me, I guess, he tells the Captain, and on up, but…” and he shrugged again.
“Alright, watch. Anyone in particular?”
“The one called la Motte, calls himself a Comte. Used to be with your lot, moved up in the world now.”
The Officer shook his head, and exchanged a look with his sargeant, who cracked his knuckles. The soldier looked bored.
“Ok, like I said, as it happens, I want you to keep doing what you’re doing, but there’ll be two changes. The first one you won’t like…”
“I doubt I’ll like anything you have to say…”
“The first one, is that anything you’re going to say, to your sargeant, you’re going to say to my sargeant first, understand?”
The corporal sucked his tech very audibly. The officer continued.
"The second, is that you’re going to stop being a public nuisance, I have a nice dry set of rooms in a tavern on that street, with a lovely view of the front door. They’ll even bring you something to eat.”
The corporal searched the officer’s face, looking for the trick.
“What’s he done?”
“He has a list of villainy, as long as your arm, but we haven’t caught him with his hand in the till. We think he’s about to go for something bigger than he’s ever gone for before, and we want to get him. I don’t want to have some aristo getting ideas, and getting in the way. He’s messed us up before, not this time.”
“Meals in the dry eh?”
“Something to eat, in the dry, and you talk to my guy first.”
“Then I can talk to my sargeant?”
“Yes, I expect you to in fact.”
“My name isn’t mentioned?”
“No. The others report to you, that’s right?”
“So you’ll tell them you’ve fixed up the room and the food, to keep ‘em sweet.” The officer said, slowly.
The corporal nodded, liking this, more and more.
“We understand each other then?”
“Let me be clear, in case you tell me later, that I wasn’t. All this, me being nice, that’s so you’ll go along with what I want, and do the job properly. You step out of line, get it wrong, get drunk or miss something, and you’ll never have to worry about your boss again. He might be a fancy aristo, but this is my city, and in Paris, we do things my way.”
And suddenly, the officer had a knife, its point, tickling the corporal’s throat, and the corporal, had not seen where it had come from.
“I wasn’t born in this uniform, and I don’t keep this lot in line,” flicking his head over his shoulder, “by being nice. Got it?”
“Excellent. The sargeant, will bring you to the tavern, and show you the room. You’ll do the explaining to your men, and you won’t mention us.” The officer stood and the sargeant stepped forward.
“Can I just ask?” the corporal said. The officer turned and looked down at him.
“If you want him, why don’t you just tell Rochefort to step back, and take over?”
The officer had just the hint of a smile, “He, la Motte, is afraid of us. He thinks your boss is a jackass, and you lot are from the same stable. If he sees us, he'll bolt.”
The corporal’s fist tightened and the officer watched it and shook his head.
“Not here, not now, son, we’ve already paid for the room.” He walked out and the sargeant waited.