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A Night Out

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Jacques was sprawled in the armchair in the study, gazing out of the window, when Roger returned home bearing the final component they needed to activate the mirror surveillance device. Determined to divert his brother from his brooding, Roger had suggested a night out on the town to celebrate the imminent execution of their plan. He’d been pleasantly surprised when Jacques had readily agreed. However, Roger had envisioned a club with lively music, possibly with young ladies to dance with, not this somewhat disreputable-looking tavern to which Jacques had led the way. Still, it was a charming location. Situated along the roadway from the jetty into town, it overlooked the bay. If the view was not as stunning as that from their familiar lookout upon the cliff, it was yet quite lovely and tranquil.

“To justice!”

Roger dragged his gaze away from the moonlight rippling over the gentle waves of the bay and raised his own glass in answer to his brother’s toast. Jacques’ eyes burned with the feverish gleam they took on whenever the two of them plotted revenge upon the evil banker. Favraux had brought their family to the brink of ruin, caused the death of their father, and broken their beloved mother’s heart. Now they were ready to put their plan into action.

Over Jacques’ shoulder, Roger watched Dubois polish glasses. The barkeep’s attitude was one of studied disinterest, but his eyes darted often to the corner of the room where several soberly dressed characters were huddled over pints of the local brew, talking in low tones. Dubois was no innocent himself - some amount of the Chat Noir’s merchandise was smuggled - but he’d proved useful to Judex in the past. Roger sighed, debating whether to mention his suspicion to Jacques.

A barrel-chested, red-bearded fellow at the table the barkeep had been eyeing, leaned back in his chair and caught the arm of the serving girl passing by. He yanked her close, foam spilling liberally over the rim of the jug she carried. The giant leered down at the girl, who cringed. Roger’s chivalrous instincts were aroused. He gathered himself to rise. He judged it likely that the man’s three companions would come to his defense but knew without a shadow of a doubt that Jacques would have his back and that the two of them would prevail. As he began to rise though, his brother’s hand closed around his wrist, and Roger halted and sank back into his seat. “Wha-?”

“Look,” Jacques said, meaningfully.

Even as Roger looked, the girl was extricating herself, by means of a wriggle from under his meaty arm and a clasp of her hand over the man’s own, removing his grasp over her in manner that looked deceptively playful.

“One of yours?”

Jacques nodded. He leant forward, his eyes flicking towards the barkeep. “While you were in Calais, collecting your electrical components, Dubois alerted me to the presence of these nefarious characters newly arrived in the area. They may merely be criminals of the ordinary type, but Dubois does not know them, and they have not made contact with any of the local gangs.”

“The girl?”

“My eyes and ears. Earlier today I received a note from her, urging me to come here tonight.”

“Any clue why?”

“The note did not say. Perhaps she was afraid it may be intercepted, and her mission exposed.”

The young woman disappeared through the door to the kitchen, pausing for a moment to look in their direction. Jacques gave no indication that he had noticed; turning his head to stare out over the bay again, but Roger knew that his brother’s keen senses missed nothing.

Jacques’ fingers tapped on the table, the only sign of impatience he allowed himself. Several long minutes later he rose, smoothly drawing his cape around him as he strode towards the door. Roger drained his tankard and dropped a few francs on the table, then joined his brother outside. Jacques was scanning their surroundings with keen eyes. With a swirl of his cape he turned and paced up the path. Roger followed, hurrying his pace until he could fall in step with him.

Very soon they’d passed into the town proper and were hurrying past houses with lighted windows and streets illuminated by electric lamps rather than just the light of the moon. They turned a corner and Jacques stopped under one of the streetlamps, drawing his cigarette case out of his jacket pocket. He withdrew two cigarettes and proffered one to Roger. Roger took it and leaned close to the flame from the lighter Jacques held, cupped in his hand against the biting wind.

“We’re not alone,” Jacques murmured. Roger had suspected as much, the back of his neck prickling with unease. The two of them waited, braced for attack, their backs to the wall of the nearest building. Instead of the ruffians from the tavern Roger had been half expecting, there was the clicking of hurried footsteps approaching, and a small hooded and cloaked figure rounded the corner, halting abruptly when she saw them. “Judex!” she gasped, sagging with relief. She drew the hood back from her face and Roger recognised the serving girl from the bar.

Judex loomed over her, his brow furrowed. “What is so urgent that you would have me come here? If you are seen with us you may be putting your life in danger.”

The girl held out a packet that she had held concealed in the folds of her cloak. “Look,” she said. Jacques opened the packet and withdrew a thin sheaf of documents. He scanned them briefly, frowning deeply and then held them out. Roger squinted at the top page under the streetlamp but the writing was cramped and barely legible and his German was not as good as his brother’s.

Jacques was giving instructions to the girl. Roger looked up to see him press a banknote into her hand, and then she was hurrying off, disappearing into the gloom.

“I’m afraid our plan may have to be delayed a short time,” Jacques said.

“Of course,” Roger agreed. Favraux wasn’t going anywhere.

As Roger spoke, out of the darkness came a shrill cry, panicked, cut off abruptly. Roger was moving towards the sound, peripherally aware of the swirl of Jacques’ cloak as his brother’s longer legs and greater speed swept him past Roger. Almost instantly his figure blended into the night. Jacques was making no effort to minimise the sound of his pursuit, deliberately so, Roger knew. The two of them had long ago trained themselves to move as silently as big cats hunting their prey. He followed the sound of his brother’s footsteps.

There were grunts of exertion, or pain, and the sudden jangling rattle of a dust-bin. Roger followed the sounds into an alley. One ruffian was on the ground already, unmoving. Jacques was grappling another brute, taller than his brother, bulkier. By the moonlight, Roger made out the shape of the red-beard from the tavern. Jacques was clearly straining, his body bent backward by the great strength of the giant. Behind him the small figure of Jacques’ agent struggled in the grasp of another man. Roger hastily stepped forward to assist his brother, but warily, mindful that the fourth man was yet unaccounted for. Even as he aimed a kick to the side of the giant’s knee, a displacement of air and movement in the corner of his vision warned Roger of imminent attack. He changed the kick to a leg sweep as he ducked to avoid his own assailant, rolling out of the way as Jacques’ erstwhile attacker crashed to the ground. Confident that Jacques would follow up the advantage, Roger turned his back and shoved his shoulder gracelessly into the man attempting again to rush him, the momentum taking them both several steps backwards. The man turned and got an arm around Roger’s neck. Roger tried to twist out of the hold and felt the arm tighten, pressing against his windpipe so that he fought to breathe.

For a moment he thought himself defeated, his pulse picking up with alarm, but then he forced his mind to calm, recalling the many hours of close combat training with his brother, and he composed himself, stilling. As expected, his assailant’s arm automatically relaxed slightly in response. Roger clasped the man’s arm firmly and dropped to one knee, shifting their weight and turning abruptly, so that the man sailed across his hip and crashed to the ground to land upon his back. Roger was upon him instantly, before the man could catch his breath. He quickly flipped him over, twisting his arm forcefully up his back, so that the man was immobilised. He attempted, briefly, to struggle, but Roger twisted his adversary’s arm more firmly against his back and the man grunted in pain and subsided.

Roger looked up, panting slightly, relieved to see that the red-beard now lay sprawled, unmoving. Jacques had his arm around the girl’s shoulder, his cloak draped protectively around her, but his eyes were on Roger. Roger waved a reassuring arm in Jacques’ direction. Jacques smiled at him, satisfied. Roger returned his smile, still catching his breath. They were victorious.

After the gendarme arrived and bundled the criminals away in their wagon, the brothers escorted the girl safely to her lodgings, then returned home to the Chateau. Their mother had retired to her bed already, so they were alone. Roger went to change into his dressing gown. As he came downstairs again, Jacques was at the door, handing the packet of papers to a thin, grey-looking man, who took them and left without a word exchanged, as far as Roger could see.

“Who was that at the door?” Roger asked, as they savoured a fine Cognac from their father’s wine cellar.

“An agent from the French Foreign Ministry,” Jacques replied. “I am sorry not to have had time to forewarn you, brother,” he continued, stretching out his long legs in front of the fireplace. “I truly had intended the night to be one of celebration, as we finally embark on avenging our dear Father.”

“Instead of which, we have assisted in foiling a spy ring?” Roger hazarded.

“Indeed.”

“What were in those letters?”

“Instructions and letters of credit for a German spy ring here in Paris,” Jacques replied. “When I began to suspect that the goings on at the Chat Noir were something more sinister than the mere smuggling of liquor, I, as Judex, contacted the Foreign Ministry about my suspicions. I was given the telephone number of a contact, should I find out any more information.” Jacques swirled the Cognac around in his glass before taking a long sip. “I believe the evidence uncovered will prove useful in rounding up more traitors who would betray France,” he said, sounding satisfied.

“An excellent night’s work,” Roger agreed. He raised his glass. “May our own mission prove as successful.”

Jacques leaned forward and touched Roger’s glass with his own. “Tomorrow, Judex will mail the letter to Favraux, and thus will justice prevail and all the lives and families ruined by an evil man be avenged.”

“To justice,” Roger agreed, echoing his brother’s toast earlier that evening, “and to Judex.”

“So it begins,” Jacques said simply. They shook hands solemnly, and returned to their contemplation of the fireplace.