The vague light of a variety of oil lamps lit the dark den. Furnished with luxurious divans, sofas and hand carved coffee tables. The air was filled with smoke and the delightfully sweetish scent of lilacs was almost lost in the significant pungent odour of opium.
Watery crimson eyes stared up, studying the ceiling intently. Lips automatically closed around the mouthpiece of the bronze pipe. Young detective inspector Sebastian Michaelis was blissfully detached from his earthbound worries as he sunk deeper in an opium trance, a state that he had quickly achieved upon his arrival in Paris and had managed to continue throughout most of the two months he had already spend in the capital of France. He reached to his left and his fingers closed around the ice cold glass of absinthe in an almost loving gesture. It felt smooth passing over his needy lips and running down his dry throat. It drew his attention away from everything and anything happening around him, even the somewhat loud and lippy ruckus at the entrance. His ignorance was euphoric, and he both consciously and unconsciously refused to let secular affairs disturb it.
With some effort Sebastian pried his eyes open and peered disinterested at the person that had invaded his bubble of enchantment. A rather short and fat individual, Chinese, perhaps Japanese, at least something Asian Sebastian assumed, with a thin line of hair above this trembling upper lip and a braid hanging over his shoulder. It resembled a rattail more than anything. The man spoke in intelligible English and bowed his body with every word he uttered. The young inspector was disgusted by the man and his respectful manners and had a right mind to dismiss him with a wave of the hand, but his hand stopped midair when the words finally sank in.
“Pardon my intrusion, but there is an English gentleman to see you.”
Sebastian blinked confused, and repeated this, as if doing so would allow his hazy mind to make sense of the unexpected news that was just delivered to him in broken English. Shutting his eyes, Sebastian inhaled and sighed a low moan. He jugged his drink back and held out the empty glass.
“Get me another, and after you have done that tell this gentleman that I care not for company from English soil."
Pleased with his coherent answer Sebastian picked up his pipe and brought it to his lips. Astonishment struck him and made his entire body jerk when someone bluntly slapped it out of his hands. Jolting up, he opened his mouth to growl a low insult at the perpetrator, but it was caught in his throat when his eyes met the bright golden ones that were peering at him in a disapproving manner.
“So this is where you have been residing these past weeks. A sordid house of debauchery. A despair drenched pit of opium and alcohol,” the male spoke, making no attempts to hide his disdain while he pushed his rimless glasses up the bridge of his nose. "I'd like to say that I was surprised to find you here, but we both know that I would be lying."
Sebastian sat back with a dirty grin curling his lips. “And we both know that you are ever so truthful don't we Claude?"
Claude arched an eyebrow, and once more adjusted the already snug glasses, this time with a little more persistence than intended or needed. "I have no clue to what matter you are so obviously referring to."
Sebastian narrowed his eyes, all sorts of words running through his head to insult Claude's most grand and longest running lie. He finally decided against it, waved it away and bend over to pick up the pipe that had been smacked out of his hands earlier. "So how did you find me?" He asked while brushing unseen dirty off the mouthpiece.
"You are not that hard to track down. I only had to follow the trail of disreputable breadcrumbs, find myself another deviant with your type of loose morals, give him a short description and he led me right to you."
"Clever," Sebastian replied snide. "If you came solely to lecture or educate me about your bourgeois way of living you can save me and yourself that tedious waste of time. I am not buying it."
“Do not get the delusion that either your illicit practices or loose morals are the reason I came to Paris. I am here on official business.”
With a vague hint of incredulity in his eyes, Sebastian uttered a raspy laugh. It made his lungs spasm painfully and he coughed in his clenched fist. “I could have saved you the trouble of risking your upstanding morals by setting foot in here; I’m still on suspension for another month. Or perhaps more," he wiped his lips with the back of his hand and sipped at the drink that had been brought over several moments earlier. "You should actually know that since you are the one who suspended me after the incident during the Whitehall case,” Sebastian reminded him, and he inadvertently smirked thinking back.
"There is no need nor reason to look that smug. Your incompetence nearly cost me my job as well," Claude reminded him, crudely interrupting Sebastian's mesmerizing.
“Indeed," Sebastian complied, and tilted his head to scrutinize his boss intently, "which begs the question what really brought you here. Are you finally ready to venture into the excitement of the Parisian nightlife?” he asked while he sank back down on the divan, stretched his slender figure and put a hand behind his head. “Anything and everything is possible here at the Petite Quéquette..”
"It's not called the Petite Quéquette," Claude pointed out flatly.
"Really?" Sebastian pursed his lips. "I could've sworn.. No matter, anything still is possible and probable. Especially in regards to the quéquette," he said and nodded at Claude's pants. "It might do you some good."
“This might come as a shock to you, but not everybody cares to explore the boundaries of illegal drugs and alcohol,” Claude remarked sarcastically and took a glimpse at the sofa next to Sebastian to hide the red color of shame that was coloring his cheeks. He could hardly mask his disgust as he saw a representative of the French government, drunk and drooling while he shamelessly felt up a naked courtesan.
Following Claude's gaze, Sebastian sniffed a laugh. “You’re such a stiff Claude, but not in the good sense of the word. Loosen up, you might actually enjoy yourself for once in your lifetime. What happens after hours, even indulging in illicit activities, is not a crime.”
“That is of not matter to me. My idea of enjoying myself does not involve getting high, nor drunk. In my position I have obligations not to mention morals, and those extant far beyond the scope of office hours.”
Sebastian rolled his eyes, reached in the pocket of his vest and pulled out a tin cigarette case. “If your idea of official matters is coming all this way to lecture me about my choice of spending my suspension and remind me of work related obligations, I suggest you save yourself the trouble and me a throbbing headache. Frankly, I could care less for your opinions,” he said while clicking open his lighter. The head of the cigarette went up if flames, and the orange hue gave his crimson eyes an almost ominous glow. He clicked the lighter shut and let it, along with the case, slide back into his pocket. "I am here on my own terms."
“I am an officer of the law. It is my job to see to law and order-” Claude began, but Sebastian raised his hand, palm out to stop him from speaking further.
“Need I remind you that we are not on British territory. You have no jurisdiction here, so spare me the formalities and that significant judgmental tone of yours. If you are not here to save my soul from eternal damnation, what did bring you to Paris?”
“Like I mentioned before, I am here on official business,” Claude repeated and dumped an edition of the Daily Post on Sebastian's stomach. Barely interested, he picked it up and tried his best to focus on the tiny lettering that danced mockingly in front of his eyes. After staring at the title for what seemed five minutes, he could make out the words robbery and bank.
“Some bank has been robbed,” he said while throwing the paper at Claude’s feet. “Did you really went through all this trouble to tell me someone stole some cash. Can’t you regular lackeys take care of this themselves?”
Claude sighed, bend down and started reading the article as he straightened himself. “Drummonds bank robbed, safe emptied clean and police, once again, left clueless. Circus thieves strike again! After a series of burglaries amongst some of the most prominent families of the London upper class, the band of robbers seem to have successfully set their aims at a more profitable business,” he read out loud, and tossed the paper back in Sebastian's lap once more.
“So? I fail to see how any of this is my problem,” Sebastian said as he tried to read the remainder of the article himself. “I am still on-”
"You're drunk. It is quite probable that you fail to see how any of the wordly matters are you problem. Even so, until further notice, consinder your suspension lifted,” Claude interrupted him. “I need you back in London.”
Sebastian slowly lowered the paper, revealing a self-righteous smirk that seemed to make Claude's skin crawl. “I never thought I’d live to see the day that Chief Inspector Claude Faustus came to beg for my help. It is almost endearing.”
“Do not for one second think that I came here to beg. You are an officer of the law. As your supervisor, it is my job to see that you execute yours accordingly and uphold the oath you took. To serve and protect. The people of London, and God bless the ignorance in which they put their trust in you, need your protection. Now.”
“I care very little for the upper class,” Sebastian said in tone of voice that was drenched with disinterest, and shrugged his shoulders to emphasize this. "Besides. If you came to beg for my help you are to dial down the amount of insults you are throwing my way. You might have the authority to force feed me your narrow minded morals when I am on the job, but during my time off, I am hardly inclined nor obligated to take your low blows."
"Need I remind you once more that as your supervisor it is my prerogative to either lift or prolong your suspension, so I did not came here to beg; it is an official order." Claude adjusted his glasses once more. “Secondly, the law does not distinguish the rich from the poor. You are obliged to serve all, without preference.”
“Please,” Sebastian spat, rolling his eyes in an arrogant manner and tossing the paper aside. “The law is one of the two leading organs that is so clearly demarcating the classes still, right behind those idiots that form our so called parliament. You cannot deny that the lenience in time the police spend on researching a case is not influenced by the class the victim is classified in. You and I both know how the system works, or rather, how it does not work.”
Claude narrowed his eyes. “Regardless of our objections with the unseemly ruling of parliament and the rules of the Yard, the people of London need our help and it is our lawful duty to answer to that call.”
Sebastian hissed, dismissing the words with a hand gesture while he tried to stand. Claude grabbed his flailing arm and helped him to his feet. Yanking it out of his boss’s grasp, Sebastian wobbled unsteadily on his legs while waving a finger in Claude's face. “Spare me the rest of your bureaucratic politically correct jargon. Queen and country and all that nonsense.” he growled as he pawed his frock coat on. “When do we make for London?”
“Immediately. I have an automobile waiting to take us to the port of Calais. There, a ship of the Royal Navy is awaiting to take us to Dover.”
“The Royal Navy,” Sebastian whistled through his teeth. “My my aren't you are taking this seriously,” he mocked and went through his pockets in search of his last bit of money and some other personal belongings. “Mister Wang,” he paused while looking the owner over with a hint of sheer confusion written over his face, “or something equally Asian. I do solemnly thank you for all your fine services and outstanding products,” he said and placed five golden sovereigns on the open palm. He turned to Claude, and summoned a wide grin. “Off we go then.” After Sebastian took his first uncoordinated step forward, he tripped over his own feet and fell face flat onto the Persian carpet covered floor.
Claude rolled his eyes and quietly wondered to himself what had fathomed him to come to Paris and expect anything else than an utterly useless heap of drug addict. If the Yard had not been up his ass about the entire ordeal, he would've gladly let Sebastian rot in the hellhole he had made for himself. Knowing there was no one better, Claude had to bend down and grab Sebastian by his collar and hoist him to his feet.
Last nights’ snow had covered the whole of London with a thick, white blanket. Everything was serene and untarnished. Most citizens did not hesitate to turn over on their other side and sleep on, ignoring the winters’ cold for just another couple of minutes. The streets were deserted shy for a drunk who stumbled on home or a whore that rushed back to her boarding house.
It was in this blue hour, when the sweet light colored the snow pink, that a young man crossed the emoty streets of the city. He was alone, with only the sound of the snow crackling under his boots betraying his presence. The cold air whipped at his nose and cheeks, so he buried his face a little deeper in his dark blue woolen scarf. Turning left, he passed through the gates of Abney park cemetery and took an immediate right. Passing several tombs and monuments, he stopped at two single headstones. He sighed, buried his gloved hands in his pockets and stomped his feet to try and get them warm. For moments at an end, he remained silent, just staring at the marble tablets without a sound. Finally, he bend down and wiped the snow from the tops.
“I am deeply sorry it has been such a long time since I came to visit,” he whispered while cleansing the elegant golden lettering from snow. “I have been very busy…”
The wind howled through the trees and stirred the leafless branches. The young male bowed his head, stared at the soil beneath his feet that was covered in snow and dead leafs and chuckled softly.
“Why am I lying to a bunch of headstones? I haven’t been here since your funeral,” he muttered before turning his head up and gazing at the sky. Tiny flakes were once again whirling down from the thick clouds and got stuck in his long lashes. He exhaled a sigh, his breath a tiny vaporous cloud, and dropped his chin to his chest. “I just don’t like coming here. I hate running into that pudgy undertaker who skulks in the shadows of the mausoleums, and the scenery is both posh and dull. Words I would never use to describe you. I still don’t know why I couldn’t bury you at the estate.”
His thoughts were briefly disturbed when he heard the crackling of snow. He paid it no attention, slowly rose to his feet and retrieved a single blue rose from his pocket that he placed on top of the left headstone. Footsteps came to a halt several feet away from him, leaving the grave sight in ceremonial privacy as he finished his business.
“This will probably be both the first and last time I come to visit,” he spoke, the entire syllable rolling over his tongue with obvious reluctance. “I see no point in visiting buried caskets containing nothing but your lifeless bodies. I’m sure you’ll understand.”
The sound of someone clearing their throat behind caught his attention. He blinked, clearing his vision from tears and spoke, his tone less mild than the one he had used to talk to the headstones.
“What is it?”
“Sir,” a voice began in a gentle manner, "we hate to interrupted-"
"Speak for yourself," a second voice joined in a much less forgiving tone. It made the young man smile despite himself.
"Of course. What possessed me to believe you could have any consideration for another person's feelings. How terribly rude of me. Let me try this again-"
"Stop that bickering." Sparing the graves one last look, silently bidding them his final goodbyes, the young man turned on his heels and looked at the two men standing only a few feet away. The amethyst eyes of the ginger haired male were kind and a small smile of sympathy curled his lips. The blonde, however, showed no emotion and seemed as ruthless as ever. The tiny crack in his voice when he spoke was nothing but the after effect of a terrible cold he had suffered one week earlier.
“Are you alright, Ciel?”
Ciel gave the two a short but firm nod. “I am perfectly fine, is everything ready, Joker?”
“Yes,” Joker answered. “The carriage is awaiting.”
“Good. Let us go than, I don’t have all day,” Ciel spoke while leaping forward and passing the two. They followed automatically without being commanded.
Their coach stopped outside Hoare’s bank exactly an twenty minutes later. Stepping out, the three males pulled their hats down and wrapped their scarves a little more tight around their necks, shielding their faces from the biting cold. The two guards barely noticed them while they were keeping a keen eye on the shady blonde males that were having a leisure smoke on the steps of the bank. Joker took it upon himself to open the door for his master.
Inside the bank people turned to innocent pleasantries while awaiting their turn. The three men exchanged one last look. Ciel nodded at Joker who then retrieved a thick chain from underneath his coat and proceeded to wrap it tightly around the doorknobs, sealing the exit. People were still blissfully unaware. Men of their class fitted in perfectly with the crowd, so there hardly seemed to be any threat.
Reaching beneath his long frock coat, Ciel’s fingers wrapped tightly around the cold steel at his hip. He retrieved the gun in one smooth gesture and aimed it at the counter in front of him. Speaking, his clear voice echoed through the hall. Talk stopped immediately, and all attention was turned to the threesome.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is a robbery. Remain calm, do as I say and no one will get hurt.”