Enigme, a short story

This is for you, Deb.

A couple of weeks ago, I gave her a challenge: I’ll give you five words, and you have to fit them in the first sentence of a short story. Needless to say, I still don’t know if she ever started it. I know I tried it. In a moment, you’ll be reading what I came up with from those five words. This is technically a steampunk piece, except I call anything with zeppelins in it steampunk, so I’m probably missing a lot of elements. The important part, though, is that the characters are French. So ah hope you eenjoy zees story, weef all eets reedeeculus dayalog.

Jean remained absolutely still in his tentative position on the piping, hoping the worst didn’t come to worst and his grip give way, as the thirty-something policeman looked through the alley-way, led by his large hound, who continued to sniff at the trail of scent Jean had left when he had ran into the alley and climbed up the side of the wall to his current position. He just hoped that neither the dog, nor the man holding its leash would figure out to look up – one casual shot from the policeman’s pistol would easily finish him off.

Unfortunately, the hound was following his scent, and his scent led straight up the wall. Finding itself unable to continue pursuit, or else realizing how recent Jean’s scent was, the dog opened its jaws in a series of fierce barks and growls, directed toward the wall. And then it wasn’t long before the policeman turned up his head, and his eyes lit up in surprise at finding Jean.

“Zere you are!” He exclaimed, pointing up at the fugitive. “Come down, monsieur, or ah shoot!”

Jean had no options. So he did the only thing he could do: he came down. Swinging a little on the piping, he launched himself, knocking into the policeman in his fall. The policeman collapsed to the ground, staring up in fear at Jean as he attempted to draw his gun, the hound barking angrily at his feet. Jean slammed his foot down on the policeman’s hand, the pain causing the gun to slip to the ground. Jean leaned down and picked it up, the policeman continuing to view him in terror.

“Ah’m not going to keell you,” Jean said. “Just don’t try folloween’ me.”

Jean turned and hurried down the alleyway, away from the fallen officer and his loquacious dog, heading for anywhere that didn’t have police. As he ran, he pocketed the pilfered pistol, knowing he’d find plenty of use for it later.

It wasn’t his fault, though, that he was on the run like this. He had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. But none of the policemen would accept the fact that he had just happened upon the body, and that he hadn’t noticed the gun by his foot. But now not only did he need to evade the police, but he also needed to find out who the real killer was.

Jean made his way through the city, hurrying through the alleys and shadows, trying to keep an inconspicuous face when he was forced onto the main streets, amidst pedestrians and steam cars and mechanical carriages. What he really needed was someplace private, where he could gather his thoughts and figure out what he would do next, without fear of the police.

An airship! It was perfect – a quiet place to think, no policemen, and it had the additional quality of a destination, specifically away from the city. The only problem was getting on one without being caught.

Jean turned, walking toward the airship field. Beyond the rows of buildings he could see one of the great balloons descending, falling below the horizon of the rooftops. Moving through the streets between, he came to the city airport, where hundreds milled around, either leaving or entering the large facility. Jean, being one of the latter, opened the glass entrance door, striding in with false confidence, hoping that the security guards placed sporadically around the building did nothing to stop his progress.

However, he made his way through unopposed. Briefly checking the out-bound flights, he chose a destination rather far away, but not so far away as it might cause suspicion. Finding the correct terminal, he walked up to the desk, where a lady sat selling tickets for the flight.

“Hello, mademoiselle,” he said cordially. “I would like to purchase a teeckit for Lasera.”

“Okee, monsieur,” she replied, not looking up. “Do you have identeefeecation?”

“Do I…what?”

“Identeefeecation.” Now she looked up at him, her face perturbed.

“Oh, yes!” Jean did not have identification with him, nor would he really want to show it if he did. He hadn’t planned on this. Now how was he going to get out of the city? Or this situation, for that matter.

“Excuse me, mademoiselle,” said a voice to Jean’s left. “I believe I may be of asseestance here.”

Jean turned, to see an older gentleman beside him, a thick handlebar mustache over grinning lips. The man’s smile was directed toward the woman, who did not seem to share his good mood.

“I would like two teeckeets for Lasera,” he said, handing the woman an ID, along with what looked like several pieces of cash.

The woman eyed the ID and the cash. “Teeckeets are 500 each.”

“But of course.” The man pulled out a wallet from the inside of his coat, counting out ten hundreds.

“The rest is for you,” he whispered.

The woman frowned, before handing a pair of tickets, one to the man, and one to Jean. “Eenjoy Lasera.”

“Zank you,” said the gentleman, nodding his head at her. He then took Jean by the shoulder and pushed him along.

“What ees zees about?” Jean asked the man.

“Leet’s just say I am returneeng a favor.”

Jean wanted to ask what favor, but he knew this was not the right time. Besides, this favor might have just saved his life.

The two of them walked through the terminal, out onto the vast lawn where the airships lay in wait. They joined a large group of others gathered around one, which had a sign displaying the word “Lasera.” Within minutes, they were sitting comfortably at a table within the ship, facing each other.

“So, may I ask who eet ees who ees helpeeng me so much?”

“My name ees Roy Dawkeens Voltaire. Ah em an offeecer of the governmeent.”

“But the governmeent is traing to keell me. Wha would you geeve me aid?”

Voltaire paused. “Do you know who eet was you found deed?”

“Yees,” replied Jean, surprised at how much Voltaire knew. “Frances Lafayette. Wasn’t he an eemportant meeneester?”

“Very. Too eemportant. We had to geet reed of heem.”

Jean stared in shock. “You mean, you assasseenated heem?”

“Ah did,” Voltaire admitted. “Now, here’s ze deal.”

He leaned forward, his arms resting on the table between Jean and himself.

“Eet was clever, how you were able to evade ze poleece, and we theenk you would be a good asseet to us. Eef you join us, we weell make sure ze poleece understand you had nozing to do wif ze keelling of meeneester Lafayette.”

“So, you want to make me an assasseen?”

“Yes.”

“And what eef ah say no?”

“Weell, ah’m not going to preeson for Lafayette’s murder.”

Jean thought hard. He didn’t particularly want to go to prison, and perhaps life as an assassin would suit him. But he doubted it. He hadn’t killed anyone in his life. The only reason he was good at avoiding people was because he had been one of the youngest children in a large extended family. The idea of working for another unrepentant killer seemed downright unpatriotic. Anyway, wouldn’t someone cut out for being an assassin have killed the policeman pursing him?

Well, Jean hadn’t. And suddenly he remembered the gun he had taken from that officer. Quickly checking his pocket, he realized it was still there. He grinned. Perhaps this situation would resolve itself after all…

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