The Count de Lamotte
“How many of your friends are there?” The thief asked.
The head in front of him tilted, the eyes flickered again to outside of the room. The Captain would have made a lunge for the pistol but, with it cocked and at this distance, there was too great a danger of a mistake. Slowly, with deliberation, as more noise came from outside, the lad’s head turned again looking at the man in front of him.
“They’re not with you.”
“I am now.”
“What difference does it make?”
“It means we both have to get away.”
The Captain shook his head, “I’m a Gendarmes Captain, in uniform. You’re a thief.”
“So I’m as well off pulling the trigger.”
After a moment’s thought, “Ok. What do you propose?”
“I’ll put this back, and we both make for the skylight.”
The Captain uncocked his pistol and took a step back. The thief hesitated, then he too stepped back, but much more warily. The older man turned and walked out through the door. Downstairs, he could see lights at the window, moving along the gaps in the shutters, trying to find a way in. He smiled, knowing from experience there wasn’t any.
He walked over to the skylight and took the rope in his hand. Bracing his foot against the nearest display case he reached up to climb. He had gained about two feet clear off the floor, when the rope snapped, and he went down in a heap. The noise produced and instant reaction from outside. The lights stopped moving, and there was silence, as those in the street listened.
Inside, the thief appeared from the vault room, and was across at the skylight in a couple of strides. Head shaking, he took in the scene straight away, and looked up at the opening as he approached. Lightly, he leaped onto the display cabinet the Captain had used as a brace, walked along its edge, and sprung up catching the lip in a single movement, swinging up and out. Another instant, and he was gone. The Captain clambered to his feet.
Looking up and raising his arms he hissed, “Right, reach down, and we can both get away!”
The noise from the street suddenly increased and a large gap appeared in the shutters.
“Hie, don’t mess about.” He hissed again.
In reply, the Captain had to watch as the door of the skylight slid home. He coloured, then turned to look down and made his decision.
“Alright! Alright! I’m coming. Who the hell are you? Don’t damage the place.”
He shouted loudly.
Going to the front door now, making as much noise as possible, and looking for the locks. They were all on the outside. The banging started up again in the street.
“Wait! You’ll do more damage than you can pay for.”
He turned and looked around the room trying to find some way of getting out from inside. A small window, high up and to the side, caught his eye, and he walked over to it, shouting back to those outside.
“At the right. Meet me around the side, in the alley.”
He watched the lights in response, move along the front of the shop. He took a deep breath and walked over to the window. Looking up he realised it was too high, and he turned to search for something to stand on.
Outside, a small group waited below the window. One man in uniform, two carried lights, looking much more dishevelled and disreputable. One other, the oldest, had a short blunderbuss at the ready. They all watched the window. The noise from the inside suggested that, whoever was about to come through, was having difficulty. Finally, it swung open and a hat flew out. The old man raised his gun, but was waved back by the man in uniform. From inside,
“Keep my hat would you, it’s going to get crushed.”
A moment or two later the hat was followed by a coat and satchel. The soldier, a cavalry officer by his uniform, waved at one of the men with the lights to pick them up as they waited. More noise and scrapping, before at last, arms appeared and then a head. The Captain struggled though the small window, and it was only as he was about to fall from it, that any of the men made a move to help. It was evident they were not supporters, in fact once they had broken the fall, they dropped him, and he lost what remained of his dignity climbing up the leg of the dirtiest of them.
They watched him dust himself down. He thanked them for his coat, his satchel, which he put on, and reordered, before holding out his hand for his hat. Once that was properly in place, he looked at the four men in front of him, settling on the Cavalry officer.
“Good evening gentlemen.”
The cavalry officer seemed affronted at this, “Explain yourself, sir!”
The Captain appeared taken aback.
“Me? Explain myself? You gentlemen must explain yourselves, interrupting a Gendarme Captain, as he went about a delicate operation that has taken weeks, literal weeks in setting up. And, you have aided in the escape of a would-be thief whose plans I have only just frustrated. Who the devil are you?”
The men with the lights exchanged an uncomfortable look, the officer simply glared, furious, the old man with the blunderbuss was the first to answer.
“I’m the watch sir. This gentleman, drew my attention to some suspicious sounds, in the jewellers’ store sir, and we came to check. He said he saw movement on the mezzanine floor, and we atempted to gain entry to investigate further. You know the rest.”
“A fine mess you’ve made of things, suspicious sounds indeed.”
The Watch and his two mates seemed intimidated by the brusque attitude of the Gendarme. The officer, not so much.
“No, no, you don’t get away with it like that. What were you doing? Did you have permission to be in there? And, who are you?”
“I don’t need permission when pursuing a criminal, sir. As to who I am, not that you’re entitled to know, I am the Comte de Lamotte, captain of the Kings Gendarmes, at your, and the King’s, service.”
He swept off his hat and gave a large and florid bow. The Watchmen gave slight awkward bows, the Officer remained stiffly upright. Lamotte eyed him up and down, considered slapping him, but thought better of it.
“And you sir? You are the sole personage who remains unidentified. Given the part played here are you the thief’s accomplice, knowing him in trouble you create a brouhaha and allow his escape? Eh sir, your name, let’s have it?”
The Watch now turned to face the Officer, so much for him a few seconds earlier, now they looked in suspicion. Suddenly on the back foot, the man coloured.
“I am the Comte de Rochefort, chef d'escadron in his majesty’s horse. I demand a proper explanation from you for this evening’s events.”
“Commandant, delighted to make your acquaintance.”
He offered once more, a florid bow.
“Simple enough. Some days ago I noticed a young fellow, lithe, wiry, looked like one of those acrobats you see. Anyway, he was walking about this shop, not in it mind, outside, looking up the walls, that sort of thing. I decided he was up to no good and I set up to watch the place, I took a room in that place over there, you can check with them if you wish.”
He pointed to a coffee house on the corner of the street.
“They offered me a room that affords an excellent view of the place. After a few nights, I’d seen nothing. Then, about the forth or fifth night, I caught, quite by accident, a glimpse of someone making their way across those rooftops.”
His audience was mostly rapt at this point. Even the commandant seemed engaged.
“On the roof? The devil you say.”
“I do sir. So, about ten days ago I changed my spot and found a place up there, in the lee of a large chimney. This evening, my vigil was rewarded. The fellow arrived and entered through a skylight. I followed and had him under my pistol when the clamour from below distracted me enough that the villain got away.”
“You will be able to offer some corroboration for this tale?”
“Indeed, the damaged roof-light, but more importantly the presence of the items, he didn’t steal.”
de Rochefort looked him up and down and then pointed at the coffee house on the corner.
“We can wait in there, for the owners to arrive and we’ll have your proof.”
“Capital,” and they walked together to the inn.
The Watch left to rouse the proprietors, as the gentlemen headed towards the hostelry. They shared neither hopes nor fears. As he walked, Lamotte made a silent prayer that the thief had, in fact, kept his word and replaced the necklace, realising that, in the rush to escape, he had not checked, had not made any search of the lad.
Was there honour among thieves? He was not sure how well his ‘Nobility’ would stand scrutiny, this sort of theft had a rope at the end of it.