The Long Arm of Fantômas
Being the Sixth of the Series of Fantômas Detective Tales
Juve languishes in prison after being arrested as Fantômas, but when the Minster of Justice is kidnapped, the public is thrown back into fear and confusion, doubting whether it is really Fantômas who has been thrown in jail. Following this renewed wave of crime, the American detective Tom Bob sends word to the press that he will travel to Paris to investigate these mysteries, but will the famous detective be able to catch Fantômas and free Inspector Juve?
“From the imaginative standpoint Fantômas is one of the richest works that exist.”
“Absurd and magnificent lyricism.”
- A Promising Job
- A Night Affray
- Shady Schemes
- An Epileptic Seizure
- Disappointed Hopes
- Prisoner of the Lantern
- Fantômas’ Ultimatum
- A Wireless from Mid-Atlantic
- The Blue Chestnut
- Tom Bob on the Spot
- Mad as a Hatter
- A Stroke of Genius
- The Wall That Bled
- In the Bois de Boulogne
- In a Private Room
- Next Morning!
- Fantômas Meets Fantômas
- “Fantômas Speaking!”
- The Prisoner of the Santé
- A Woman’s Self-Sacrifice
- Joy Can Kill
- A Volunteer Waiter
- The Wedding Breakfast
- Plots and Counterplots
- Assault and Battery
- Juve Hears Confessions
- Juve’s Bag
- The Decoy
- The “Ever-Evasive” Escapes Again
1. A Promising Job
“. . . Six, seven, eight, nine, ten. There you are!”
“And there’s your bill back in exchange. Monsieur Moche, I thank you.”
“It’s I should thank you.”
“Not at all, not at all! . . . Your leave, Monsieur Moche, to count them over again on my side? Ten thousand francs, quite a sum of money!”
“My word, yes, my man. So that clears your budget, eh?”
“Please don’t think I mistrust you because I check the notes. It’s the usual thing.”
“Go on, go on. Don’t apologize.”
The bank collector deposited his peaked cap on a straw-bottomed chair beside him, mopped his streaming brow, and moistening his thumb with a rapid, eminently professional movement, passed one by one between his fingers the ten big blue bank notes his debtor had just paid over to him.
The heat was stifling. It was the 15th of May—settling day, and about four o’clock in the afternoon.
Bernard, an employee at the Comptoir National, was nearly at the end of his day’s round when he reached M. Moche’s abode, which lay at the far end of the quartier, No. 125 Rue Saint-Fargeau.
The man had climbed the stairs slowly. On the fourth floor right was a door with a brass plate on which was inscribed:
The description was only roughly indicative of the professional status of the tenant of the fourth floor. M. Moche was indeed an advocate, but not an advocate borne on the rolls of the Cour d’Appel, a pleader affiliated to the Paris bar and consequently bound by the strict rules of the profession. He was an advocate in the bare, literal sense of the word, leading persons of some perspicacity to surmise that M. Moche was in actual fact merely an ordinary business agent.
Nor was the impression produced on a visitor entering M. Moche’s domicile such as to modify the supposition. A real barrister’s chambers are in the main very much like any middle-class private house, whereas M. Moche’s office, or to be more precise, M. Moche’s offices, bore the unmistakable stamp of a place of business.
The first room you entered was divided in two by a partition pierced by wicket-windows, the lower portion being solid, the upper consisting of a latticework of stout bars. Behind could be seen rows and rows of deed-boxes and bundles of papers ranged on big shelves. In this room M. Moche generally sat, and whenever the outer door opened he would follow suit by throwing open a little window and popping out his head to take stock of the visitor.
Anyone who had ever seen M. Moche, or even just his head framed in the window opening, could never forget the man, for the advocate of the Rue Saint-Fargeau possessed a physiognomy that was highly characteristic.
His features, prematurely wrinkled, betrayed his age to be a good fifty. Following the fashion of ministerial officers of former days, M. Moche wore on his cheeks a pair of short, bushy whiskers, of a reddish hue that made them strongly resemble a rabbit’s paws. His rather prominent nose, under which a black smudge of snuff was invariably to be found, carried a pair of enormous, round, gold-rimmed spectacles. Atop his skull, which one guessed to be completely bald, was perched a badly made, badly kept wig, ragged at the temples and unduly flattened at the crown, whereon the wearer found it necessary from time to time to balance a little velvet skullcap.
Had it not been for the shifty eyes that were never at rest for an instant, M. Moche might have been taken for a perfectly honest man; yet his old-maidish manner, his soft, silky address, his often exaggerated politeness, his trick of rubbing his hands and bending his back before visitors, somehow modified any such favorable impression. Still, as a matter of fact, despite his unpleasing exterior, M. Moche had earned an excellent reputation in the quartier. He was a serviceable, obliging old fellow, occasionally over-inquisitive about other folks’ business, but as a rule ready enough to do a kindness. Many in the neighborhood had had recourse to him at one time or another for little loans of money, granted, it is fair to say, at quite reasonable rates of interest, and none had come to any harm at the hands of the old businessman.
The truth is, M. Moche was richer than people might suppose, judging by the appearance of his abode on the fourth floor, a quite modest set of apartments. Apart from the outer room with the barred and windowed partition, the accommodation included a second apartment, a trifle larger, a trifle more pretentious, which was honored with the title of drawing room. One or two armchairs of worn and faded leather and a round table with a gas chandelier over it made up the furniture. The room had two windows looking on the street, affording a superb view over the northern parts of the city and the fortifications running parallel with the Boulevard Mortier.
The third room of the flat was M. Moche’s bedroom, a chamber rarely occupied, however, for its tenant frequently slept at home, and appeared to utilize his quarters in the Rue Saint-Fargeau merely as a place for interviewing callers and conducting his business affairs in general. M. Moche, in fact, was entitled to use more than one address, and it was matter of common knowledge that he was owner of a house in the La Chapelle district.
. . . The collector had finished his verification of the total, and declared it to be correct. Then he added, as he turned to take leave of M. Moche:
“There, my day’s work is done, or as good as done. I’ve only another flight to climb in your house, and then back to the bank as fast as I can go, for I’m behind my time already.”
At these words, M. Moche looked at the man with an air of surprise.
“You have a payment to collect on the floor above?” he asked. “And from whom, may I ask?”
Bernard consulted a little notebook dangling by a string from a button of his uniform.
“From a Monsieur Paulet.”
“Oh, ho!” laughed M. Moche.
“Yes, that’s so,” affirmed the other. “Oh, a mere trifle, a matter of 27 francs!”
“Well, good luck to you,” concluded the old man philosophically, closing the wicket, as the bank employee took his leave with a bow and a final word of politeness:
“Hoping to meet you again, sir!”
Left alone—he kept neither housekeeper nor office-boy—the old fellow stretched himself in one of the old leather armchairs in the dining room. Through the open window came a breath of cool air. M. Moche sat in his shirtsleeves, enjoying the evening freshness, and presently took advantage of his momentary leisure to inhale a huge pinch of snuff. Not a sound came from outside—vehicles are few and far between in the Rue Saint-Fargeau—and only faint and far away in the distance could be heard the occasional tinkle of the bells of the electric trams that, in this remote quarter of Paris, link up the outer suburbs with the central districts of the capital.
Suddenly, M. Moche started violently. From the floor above a dull, heavy thud reached his ear. He found no difficulty in identifying the sound—it was that of some heavy object falling on the floor above his head. The old man scratched his chin and muttered half aloud:
“It’s a piece of furniture overturned . . . or a body!”
For a minute or two he stood hesitating, but M. Moche was a man of a curious and inquiring turn of mind.
Abandoning the siesta he was proposing to enjoy, he crept cautiously from the salon, and crossed the outer room of the flat, which opened directly on the landing. Then, stepping noiselessly in his felt slippers, he climbed the stairs leading to the upper floor without a sound.
On the fifth floor of No. 125 Rue Saint-Fargeau, there had been residing for some weeks, in a pretty enough, albeit cheap, set of rooms, two individuals who appeared at first blush to be just an amiable pair of turtledoves.
They were quite young—the united ages of the two would barely have equaled that of M. Moche! The man looked twenty-three at most. His companion, a dainty, slim little thing, a brunette with great dark eyes, had seen no more than sixteen summers.
They were lover and mistress. His name was Paulet, hers Nini. The pair had set up house together in the Rue Saint-Fargeau after their union one Easter eve in the tenderest, but unconsecrated bonds of love. The two had known each other from childhood. Paulet was the son of a worthy woman who kept the porter’s lodge at a big house in the Rue de la Goutte-d’Or. Nini lived in the same house, where she had come as a child with her mother, a respectable working woman, Mme. Guinon by name, widow of a railroad worker.
Nini was the youngest of a large family. They had been five brothers and sisters, but two having died at an early age, Mme. Guinon had only three surviving children. The two elder, Firmaine and Alfred, were employed—the former at a mantua-maker’s in the Rue de la Paix, the latter with a bookbinder in the Rue des Grands-Augustins. But Nini, a child of an uncontrolled and capricious temper, with a venturesome and vicious disposition, could never acquire the habit of regular work, no matter how light. Forgoing apprenticeship, the girl had preferred to run the streets with the most outrageous young scamps of the quartier.
This was the very thing to attract and fascinate Paulet, the concierge’s son, who also, as the phrase goes, had a wild “bee in his bonnet,” and who from his teens onwards had been told over and over again by the flash girls of La Chapelle that he was far too pretty a boy ever to do any work.
For all that, Paulet was scarcely to be styled an Adonis. Slenderly built and below average height, he had into the bargain a pasty complexion, colorless hair, and a pair of pale, watery eyes. Still, the features were well cut, almost refined. It was a common saying in the Rue de la Goutte-d’Or that certainly his mother must have gone wrong one day with a man of quality to have brought such a piece of goods into the world.
In a word, Paulet was the women’s darling, because not only had the lad pretty manners of his own, but an inexhaustible fund of high spirits and an amazing gift of the gab—a typical “ladies’ man” in all the abomination of the term . . . and in all its beauty!
The whole La Chapelle quarter was stirred to its depths when Paulet seduced little Nini Guinon and resolved to set up house with the girl. There had been some violent scenes with the child’s family. Mme. Guinon, in particular, had been profoundly grieved at the catastrophe. But there, one must learn to take things as they come—and she had resigned herself to the inevitable.
As a matter of fact, for the two months the pair had been living together as man and wife, the lovers appeared to have grown quite well behaved. Nini kept her little home in decent order; Paulet worked now and then as a stonemason, a trade he had learned once upon a time in a rather haphazard fashion. Such at any rate was the official, ostensible occupation of the tenant of the fifth floor. But his real business, one which sometimes of evenings he constrained his pretty mistress to follow, was, may we surmise, of a less reputable sort.
A certain angle enabled anyone looking out from the staircase window to see what was going on in the kitchen of the flat occupied by this dubious couple. At the moment M. Moche reached this window, Paulet and Nini were engaged in a highly animated conversation; and, to be sure, the old man looked on and listened with all his eyes and ears.
M. Moche was lost in astonishment at the strange attitude of the two and the amazing things they were saying! Bending down over the sink, Nini and Paulet were letting the water pour over each other’s hands, which they were soaping in feverish haste, while red soapsuds dripped between their fingers into the trough.
Paulet was saying:
“Buck up, Nini! Don’t let the flies grow on you . . . once the stuff dries on our fingers, it’d be the devil’s own job to get it off afterwards!”
“I know that,” muttered Nini in a trembling voice. Then she added:
“But, look, I’ve got some on my apron, too.”
“Lather it well,” her lover told her, “and if it won’t come off, we’ll chuck the thing in the fire.”
Paulet half turned round and took down from a shelf a heavy hammer stained with blood, which he set to work sponging carefully.
“That’s mighty dangerous, too,” he observed, “if it’s not wiped clean.”
M. Moche could form a pretty shrewd notion of what had occurred before he arrived. Mechanically he mounted the three or four steps that still separated him from the landing of the floor occupied by Paulet and Nini.
The door stood ajar—a crazy piece of imprudence! M. Moche pushed it open softly and made his way stealthily along the little passage at the end of which was the kitchen.
Suddenly, in the half dark, his foot struck against something. M. Moche, his sight getting accustomed to the dim light, gazed down at this “something” with haggard eyes—it was the body of a man lying quite still, face down on the floor!—the body of the bank collector! At the back of the neck showed a fearful wound.
The thing was beyond a doubt—Paulet had murdered the employee from the Comptoir National.
The unfortunate man’s wallet lay beside him, wide open, and M. Moche could see that its contents had not yet been touched. The bank notes stuck half out of the case, like the contents of a parcel that has been ripped up; you had only to stoop to help yourself. It was plain Paulet and Nini, their victim once dead, had merely shut the door, without making sure it was fastened, calm and confident in their conviction that nobody in the house, empty at this hour of the day, would come in to surprise them.
The deed once done, they had deemed the most urgent thing was to set to work instantly to cleanse their hands and clothes in order to get rid of the evidence of their guilt at the earliest possible moment. The corpse lay absolutely motionless. No doubt the bank employee had been killed outright with one blow.
During the few seconds M. Moche stood hesitating before the ghastly sight, he could still hear the two accomplices discussing the details of their cleansing operations. But there was something else that, even more than his curiosity to overhear what they were saying, held the old advocate’s attention—to wit, the bank notes that overflowed from the wallet, that were all but out of their receptacle, that seemed to be actually offering themselves to whosoever cared to appropriate them.
It was a strong temptation—and M. Moche did not resist it!
Creeping like a cat, hiding in the semi-darkness of the little passage, with a thousand precautions, he advanced step by step. He reached out his hairy hand, his fingers shook as they touched the brass fittings of the open wallet. Then his hand fell on the bundle of notes. Suddenly he sprang back in alarm—Paulet and Nini had stopped talking. Had they heard him?
But presently the same excited conversation began again. Whereupon M. Moche, with an ugly smile on his face, crept down again to his own floor, bolted his door and counted his spoils. Yes, it was a fine stroke of business: not only did he recover his own ten thousand-franc notes, but with them were ten others of the same denomination!
“Ha, ha! Money well invested, and that brings in a hundred percent on the nail, or I don’t know what I’m talking about!” M. Moche muttered in delight, his eyes sparkling with greed.
But next moment, the old man turned ghastly pale. The front-door bell had rung! Instinctively, M. Moche crammed into his pocket the notes he had just stolen so audaciously, and with the aplomb of a hardened thief.
Then he stood stock-still, waiting. Would the visitor insist? Yes, he would—the ring was repeated. M. Moche had nothing to fear, for the moment at any rate. Had he not taken the precaution to double lock the door? Still, he must find out what was afoot. In a second the old fellow had decided the line of behavior he must adopt.
“Bless my soul,” he thought to himself, “it can only be a caller, a client, and there is no reason why I shouldn’t receive him. If by any chance it were Paulet, I need only refuse to open and leave him to kick his heels till the police arrive.”
At the third repetition of the summons, M. Moche put the tentative question:
“Who is it? What do you want?”
Through the door the old advocate caught the sound of a fresh young voice asking timidly:
“Is this M. Moche’s?”
“Yes, madame . . . mademoiselle, but I don’t know if he can be seen. What is it about?”
“A lady wishes to speak to him—about a flat to let in the Rue de l’Evangile.”
Rue de l’Evangile, that was where M. Moche owned a property. Most certainly it would never do to send away this inquirer who appeared anxious to take rooms in his house.
So M. Moche turned the key in the lock and half opened the door to make sure his visitor was alone, and that no one suspicious accompanied her. Evidently there was no cause for alarm, and the old man stepped back and threw the portal wide open.
“Please come in, mademoiselle,” he said with a bow, and ushered her into the little salon.
His visitor was a young woman, quietly but elegantly dressed. Twenty-four at most, she was a tall, fair, pretty girl. A heavy veil partly masked the brilliance of her complexion of lilies and roses. She wore mourning weeds.
Moche, after a brief survey, pointed to a chair and invited her to state her business.
“Sir,” began the unknown, “at present I am living in the Rue des Couronnes, but on account of my work—I am employed in the correspondence office of a factory at Aubervilliers—I am anxious, very naturally, to make my home nearer the place where I work. Well, I have been to see a flat in your house in the Rue de l’Evangile that would suit me, provided you would consent, as the concierge led me to hope you would, to make a trifling alteration.”
The girl spoke simply, equally without exaggerated timidity and undue assurance.
Moche looked at her with interest, preoccupied as he was. Still he forced himself to attend to the conversation. Meantime, to gain time and recover his equanimity, he asked:
“Whom have I the honor to address?”
“True,” the young woman apologized, “I have not told you my name yet. I am called . . . Elizabeth Dollon.”
The girl had pronounced the name only after a momentary hesitation, a fact which did not escape M. Moche’s perspicacity. He said nothing, but cast a long, scrutinizing glance at his visitor. He saw that she was coloring.
“Mademoiselle Elizabeth Dollon,” he repeated. “Now it’s a curious thing, but somehow the name strikes me as not unfamiliar.”
The young woman had risen, and her brows contracted. She seemed agitated and spoke with difficulty.
“Forgive me, sir, but I always feel strangely moved whenever I have occasion to mention my name.”
“Why, pray?” demanded M. Moche, courteously.
“Why? Oh, sir! Some years ago my name acquired a sad notoriety through the tragic, the lamentable deaths of the dearest of my family. First, my father was murdered under mysterious circumstances in a railroad car. Then it was my brother who disappeared, struck down by an odious criminal, who furthermore caused him to be accused, even after his death, of the commission of atrocious crimes.”
These statements, succinct as they were, sufficed to reanimate M. Moche’s recollection.
“I have it,” he cried, “yes, I know . . . Dollon . . . the Dollon case . . . Jacques Dollon . . . so he was your brother? Jacques Dollon, whom they called the ‘Messenger of Evil.’”
The girl, greatly agitated by this reminder of a terrible past, merely nodded her head affirmatively, while great tears filled her eyes.
M. Moche expressed his sympathy: “I am truly sorry, mademoiselle,” he said, “to have recalled such mournful memories to your mind, but as landlord of the house where you wish to take rooms, I was bound to know your name. But I assure you that henceforth . . .”
He broke off, but presently resumed:
“You spoke just now of a small alteration in the flat you wish to rent.” He had guessed from the first what it was and was quite ready to agree.
“You think, mademoiselle, that the five rooms of the vacant flat are really more than you require, and you are asking me, I’m convinced, to divide the premises in two by having a party-wall constructed?”
Elizabeth Dollon assented: “That, sir, is what the concierge led me to expect.”
“Consider the matter settled,” declared M. Moche, “and accordingly, the premises being only one half as big, the rent will be proportionately less—I will ask you 400 francs. When do you wish to move in?”
“As soon as possible.”
“The rooms are empty; as soon as ever the partition is built, you can take possession.”
Moche went into the adjoining room and returned with a form of contract he had taken from one of the pigeonholes.
“Sign this paper, mademoiselle, if you please.”
Elizabeth Dollon was preparing to do so when he asked another question in a tone of fatherly interest: “You are alone, eh? Quite alone?”
“Why, of course,” replied the girl, whose look of surprise clearly showed that she failed to understand what her prospective landlord was getting at.
The latter explained: “The house in the Rue de l’Evangile is let out to very desirable tenants—only respectable families. . . . It is not for me to judge your character, my dear young lady, but if you did happen to have a ‘friend,’ or several ‘friends,’ why, you must not let them come to see you—or not too often, at any rate.”
Mademoiselle Dollon drew herself up.
“Sir,” she declared, a good deal offended, “I don’t know what you take me for, but I am an honest woman—”
“Well, well, I felt sure of it the moment I set eyes on you; but there, it’s as well to understand one another from the beginning. So please sign your name there, mademoiselle,” and with his great hairy finger, M. Moche pointed out the place.
This formality completed, she bade a hasty farewell to M. Moche, who escorted her politely to the door.
“Brigand, scoundrel, blackguard, thief!” A torrent of insults, followed by a torrent of blows . . . M. Moche was on the point of recovering his threshold when he was struck, full in the face and fell to the ground. As he lay there, he felt the weight of a man’s body crushing him, holding him forcibly down.
But Moche, for all his years, was a wonderfully active man, and quite unexpectedly nimble. In one second he had shaken off the incubus and leapt to the other end of the room, where he stood glaring at his assailant.
It was Paulet he saw, but Paulet changed beyond recognition—eyes starting out of his head, mouth set hard, features convulsed, muscles taut.
The lover of Nini Guinon, knife in hand, was hurling himself at M. Moche, when suddenly he came to a halt. The sharp click of a cocked pistol stopped him where he stood.
Moche, quick as lightning, had not only dodged the villain’s furious onslaught, but had whipped a revolver from his pocket and pointed the weapon straight at the scoundrel’s breast . . .
“Not another step,” he shouted, “or I shoot you like a dog!”
At the same moment a cry of anguish rang out. Behind Paulet appeared the face of Nini Guinon, pale and agonized. Her two hands clutched her lover, whom she was holding back with all her strength.
But the man had realized the risk involved in a fresh attack, and was ready to parley. The voice shook that came from between his clenched teeth: “Brigand!” he repeated, looking furiously at Moche, “brigand, give me back my money!”
For a moment the old advocate entertained the idea of shamming ignorance, pretending not to know what the murderer meant by the demand. But a half-dozen words that fell from Nini’s lips decided him. “I saw you fumbling in the money-bag,” she declared, and he knew at once that dissimulation was useless. The wisest policy was to take the bull by the horns there and then—and he had his plan all ready, cut and dried. Best to play the cards face upwards on the table.
“No,” he declared, grimly, “I will not give you back the money.”
“One minute . . . !”
A sardonic smile curled the old man’s lips. He cast a searching glance at Nini, pondering with which of his adversaries he should open the attack. They were two to one—was it not judicious to win one of them over to his side so as to reverse the superiority of numbers?
“Poor little Nini,” M. Moche murmured in softened, honeyed tones, “my poor little girl, you’re in a nasty hole. Whatever is to become of you?”
The girl looked superciliously at the old man: “I don’t understand,” she told him.
“Oh, yes! you do,” returned the advocate. “Nothing easier to understand, my dear child. You’ll be left all alone in life now, it is only a question of days, perhaps hours—your lover will be arrested by the police and in six months from now guillotined at the back of the prison of La Santé. To do a man in to steal his money is always a bad business!”
Beside himself with rage, Paulet screamed:
“But it was you who stole the money, you will be turned off, too.”
But Moche, in the same quiet voice, yet all the while keeping his revolver leveled at the scoundrel’s breast, retorted:
“Impossible! How prove it? Bank notes can be made to disappear. There’s nothing more like a thousand-franc note than another thousand-franc note, while the dead body of a bank messenger, a body stretched on the floor of a lodging, fifth floor No. 125 Rue Saint-Fargeau, the residence of one Paulet by name, that’s a thing that’s not so easy to stuff away in a pocketbook . . . Now, what are you proposing to do with the corpse in question, eh, my young friend?”
Paulet turned ghastly pale. Since he had done the deed, and especially since he had discovered there was nothing to be gained by it, the money having vanished, the scoundrelly apache had completely lost his head. If only things had gone according to plan, the affair might well have been highly advantageous. Paulet had arranged it all with Nini—to kill the collector, to appropriate his takings and fly right away to foreign parts. It was good business, a job well worth the trouble. But, lo and behold! the unlucky and unexpected interference of old Moche upset all their plans, for the old ruffian had left in the wallet nothing but a few small notes—just enough and no more, to pay for a little spree.
It was M. Moche, no doubt, who had stolen the money . . . Paulet was to pull the chestnuts out of the fire and the other was to reap the benefit . . . Nini, in fact, had actually seen the man making off! If at that very moment the old man had not had a visitor, Paulet would have hurried down at once and had it out with him there and then.
In broken phrases and a breathless voice, Paulet detailed all this to the old advocate, who only smiled enigmatically. After a pause, the latter spoke again:
“You are a fine, brave fellow, Paulet—a bit of a scamp, too, but who can blame you? It’s just your little way, you know. . . . Now, my man, I’m going to make an offer: put your knife back in your pocket, I will clap my revolver in its case—we’ll be more comfortable talking. Let’s sit down across the table, and perhaps we can come to some arrangement.”
The young brigand was at a loss, as he gazed alternately at the old lawyer with the sharp eyes and at Nini, who was prompting him in hurried, urgent tones:
“Don’t be a fool, Paulet, do what the old ape says. He’s an artful, knowing beggar, he’ll find the trick to get us out of the hole we’re in . . .”
Moche had caught what Nini said. He stepped up boldly to Paulet, with outstretched hands, though the young man had not yet pocketed his weapon:
“There, you see, I trust you,” he declared. “I offer you my hand, mate, as a good comrade—shake, my man, we’ll fix things up yet.”
Paulet gave in. Ten minutes later, seated at the round table in M. Moche’s dining room, the advocate and his two visitors, Paulet and Nini, were just finishing a bottle of wine together.
They clinked glasses for the last time:
“Well, then,” demanded Paulet, “it’s a sure thing, Moche, old man, you’re going to help me?”
Moche, with a superb and impressive gesture, laid his heavy, hairy hand on Nini’s tousled curls, where she sat beside him:
“I swear it, on your lady-love’s glorious tresses, Paulet, and that’s as binding as the Blessed Sacrament!”
“All the same,” Paulet warned his mistress with an air at once peremptory and timid, “you’ll have to shut your jaw tight and not go gassing about the job in hand.”
Nini nodded, laid a finger on her lip, and with a shrug and a look of scorn:
“D’you really suppose,” she scoffed, “I should be such a silly goose as all that?”
She said no more, for the two men were deep in confabulation.
Moche was asseverating:
“I tell you this, Paulet, we’re in for a gorgeous fine thing. Don’t you imagine I’ve come to my present respectable and respected age without seeing a thing or two and learning pretty thoroughly what’s what in this world of ours! A smart customer like you, with a smart chap like me to help him, why, we’ll play some fine games together!”
Paulet agreed, smiling a well satisfied smile. But one detail still troubled him:
“The body,” he asked, “the fellow’s body . . . upstairs. What’s to be done with it, eh?”
“Never you worry, Paulet, there’s more tricks than one in papa Moche’s pack, trust me. If you do what I tell you, the ‘cold meat’ upstairs in your passage will be fixed up, never fear, so he’ll never come back again: it’ll take a mighty clever devil to find him, I can tell you!”
“But I don’t understand,” objected Paulet.
“What’s that matter?” snapped the other.
The old scamp got up, stuffed his hands in his pockets—an ordinary enough gesture seemingly, but in reality to make sure his revolver was still safe in the inside-pocket of his breeches.
Paulet had risen, and he, too, thrust his hands in his pockets, in one of which he mechanically felt for his knife, which lay there open. All very well to have made peace, to have concluded a treaty of alliance over a bottle of wine—prudence is a virtue all the same!
But neither Paulet nor M. Moche had any warlike intentions. The two malefactors had made up their minds it was to their mutual advantage to help one another.
“As a matter of fact, you are a mason by trade, Paulet, aren’t you?”
“Hmm, that depends . . .”
“Could you undertake to build a wall, a stone wall, a brick wall, a lath and plaster partition, any contraption of the sort?”
“Bless my soul, yes,” laughed Paulet, “provided you give me the needful supply of stone or brick or plaster and lime for the job.”
Moche clapped his arm on Paulet’s shoulder:
“Well, my boy, that settles it. There’s not a minute to lose, I engage from tonight.”
Nini Guinon, who had been waiting the result of the colloquy with no small anxiety, Nini, whose gaze fixed first on one, then on the other of the speakers, tender and passionate on Paulet, questioning and admiring on M. Moche, and who had kept her curiosity forcibly in check for all this time, could no longer restrain the question:
“But what are you going to do?” Moche looked first at her, then at Paulet:
“You’ll see what we’re going to do all in good time,” he announced, “but I can tell you one thing—what we’re going to do is a mighty promising job.”
(End of Chapter 1 of The Long Arm of Fantômas)
This Antipodes edition, first published in 2016, is a republication of the work first published by The Macaulay Company, New York, in 1924. The translation has been slightly altered to reflect modern spelling and usage. Originally published in French as Le Policier Apache in 1911.
Antipodes books are distributed worldwide by Ingram Content Group