Edward Lane's Argosy Chapter Three: Uncle Pete and the Parisian Whore

by Ian Ironwood
Chapter Three: Uncle Pete and the Parisian Whore

The next several days were busy for Edward, but he found he enjoyed the direction in scope and purpose that thieving on behalf of another provided. Lady Trey had given him three hundred pounds in “operating capital”, as she had put it, to finance his expedition to Paris, and he had pilfered another three hundred in miscellaneous valuables on his way out of Tudley House. Being conservative in nature, Edward husbanded his resources carefully, electing to take passage on a barge crossing the Channel, rather than a more expensive — and better documented — ferry or airship. Once in English Calais, he chose to travel by train in favor of a carriage ride, both for expediency and comfort.

Of course Edward was no stranger to the City of Lights, having been a frequent visitor immediately after graduation, when he had appended his fortunes to the coattails of his more affluent friends who made Paris their alternate home. Nearly every aristocratic family in England had a flat, a home or an estate in proximity to Paris, and Edward had spent three months gently visiting his schoolmates, one after another, never staying long enough to be considered a burden.

He had “worked” in the city a few times before, revisiting those same homes under the pretense of renewing acquaintanceships and then re-revisiting them during the dark of night in order to liberate them of their valuables. They were no more difficult to loot than English estates and, he had to admit, their wine cellars were as alluring as their treasuries.

The biggest problem with “working” too long in Paris was not the possibility of being apprehended en flagarente delecto by the Parisian constabulary — it was in crossing the powerful Parisian demimonde — the infamous underworld.

The criminal underworld in France was thick with regional and cultural subdivisions, but in Paris the demimonde was likewise filled with political radicals, would-be ideologues, revolutionaries, religious fanatics, ethnic clans, immigrant gangs, the dregs of exile and other lunatics who were kept in line only by the dominance of the nameless organization that ruled there. While Edward was far removed from the squalid tussles betwixt tentament gangsters and knife-wielding Roma clans, he was also aware that thefts in his arena were likewise considered under the jurisdiction of the Parisian criminal world — and subject to both tribute and retribution, should the occasion arise.

Technically, no one who had pretensions of looting more than a hundred pounds of booty in Paris could do so without providing a tribute payment no less than ten percent of fair black market value of the loot. To do otherwise risked inciting the wrath of the Parisan demimonde, according to Uncle Pete and other professionals he had chanced to discuss the matter with.

But to do so aforehand was to invite the kind of attention to his craft he usually avoided. And deciding upon fair market value for a magical stone that allowed the blind to see would be problematic.

But Edward also knew he would probably need some support amongst the locals, if he was to carry off this larceny. So after securing a room at a moderately priced but still respectable hotel, he dove into the disreputable suburbs of Paris, every footstep taking him deeper and deeper into neighborhoods filled with fatherless urchins, decrepit buildings, and seedy brothels that catered to the wicked tastes of the human mire capable of supporting their service. It was a stark reminder of the life he was studiously avoiding, but unlike a normal gentleman who might wander into such places and fear for his life and purse, Edward strode with the confidence of a seasoned criminal.

He found the place he’d been seeking with little difficulty — the secret signs, ignored by those not initiated into the criminal fraternity, were all over the dismal little tavern he sought. He went through the open door into the gloomy depths, trading the damp coolness of an autumn drizzle for the cloyingly smoky atmosphere of the taproom. The surly-looking keeper gave him a professional scowl as he threaded his way around passed-out customers, binging tradesmen, and pickpockets taking their ease before hitting the Parisian nightlife for the evening’s trade.

There, at the back of the moldy old building, sat Uncle Pete. Slept Uncle Pete, more accurately, for the large man’s unshaven face was pressed into his arm as he reclined across the deeply scarred tabletop, a near-empty bottle of ignoble vintage near to his elbow, and a lusty snore emitted from his open mouth. Edward took the opposite chair and signaled for the keeper to bring him another bottle. Procuring Pete’s enthusiasm and assistance would be easier with the lubrication of drink.

“Wake up!” Edward said, feigning irritation. “What are you going to do about my daughter, you lecherous scoundrel?!” Edward bellowed in the older man’s ear after the bottle and a cheap glass cup had been provided. Pete snorted, stirred, and almost returned to repose when Edward repeated his jest. “My daughter is three months gone with child, now, and says you’re the sire!”

“I never touched her, Sir!” Pete said automatically, his eyes springing open only after he had emitted his protest. Recognizing that he’d been fooled — there was no irate father in evidence, after all — he first resorted to anger and then to joy when he recognized his beloved nephew.

“Eddie!” he boomed, his lilting Celtic accent filling the entire tavern. “What brings you to this shithole?”

“I’m here on business,” Edward said, quietly. Had he used the term “Trade” or “Work”, he would have meant something different, but “business” implied that a criminal was at the onset of a job, not at the conclusion. “I already have a mark, and what’s more unusual, I have a patron.”

“Patron?” Uncle Pete asked, intrigued. “Now that is strange. Someone from London?”

“I’ll keep the details to myself, thank you, as I’ve been paid in good coin for discretion in the matter. But I’m likely to need advice, if not assistance, on this business, so I naturally thought of my dear old Uncle Pete.”

“And God love ye for the consideration, lad,” his Uncle smiled, blearily. “I’m a bit down at the moment and could stand the trade, more’s the truth. Last real job I had was a month or more, and weak tea at that. So who is this mark? And what’s the prize?” Pete wasted no time in uncorking the bottle and pouring a generous amount for both of them.

“First, I want to secure your services,” Edward said, somewhat formally. “Just to keep the loose talk at bay. I know you’d mouche the moment you were out of brass, so I’m paying to ensure your cooperation. And your silence. This must not get out.”

“Of course, lad,” Uncle Pete said, solemnly, as he licked his lips in anticipation. “Maybe three, four quid? Just enough to get me by . . .”

Edward produced a crisp ten-pound note and carefully laid it in Pete’s hand. By custom, the act of acceptance confirmed Pete was his man until the job was completed. Pete’s fingers closed over the note, his eyes wide with appreciation.

“That is some patron of yours,” he said, reverently examining the note. “What does he want? The fookin’ lint out o’ Napoleon’s navel?

“Nothing so difficult — nor disgusting. An exiled Russian nobleman who lives at a country estate, not far from here.”

“That bloody narrows it, doesn’t it?” Pete asked, wryly, as he drank the wine like a parched man drinks water. “You know how many Russians are enjoying the bitter bread of exile in Paris since the new Czar came to power?”

“This one is from the previous round of pogroms, actually.” Edward explained. “His Excellency, Count Piotr Ivanov Cherensky. He’s Russian by heritage, Parisian by Fortune’s grace. ”

“Cherensky, Cherensky,” Pete said to himself as he thought. “Don’t know him, myself. Have to speak to Leck the Pole — he’s a pimp I know, knows all about those Russian noblemen. Provides them with all manner of diverse entertainments and rarified perversions.” Pete made a mental note to himself, which involved much muttering, before returning to the matter at hand. “So what’s the booty, lad?”

“That’s restricted, Old Man — I’m to find one piece in particular, and take whatever else I fancy for my trouble.”

“That’s not going to sit well with the demimonde,” Pete cautioned. “Lest you fill their pockets afterwards.”

“I had not forgotten,” Edward nodded. “And it shall be attended to. But now you’re on my shilling, Pete, so go forth and gather what intelligence you can on Cherensky. I will be visiting friends here for a fortnight or so, and I’m staying at the Hotel d’Bretegne while I’m here. Pray leave a message at the desk to my attention — I’m using my real name, for the moment — and I shall meet you here to discuss it.”

“I am forever at your service,” Pete bowed, the picture of servile humility. Edward knew, of course, that Pete’s loyalty would run out the moment the coin did, but he was an honest criminal to that point — and Edward liked to pretend that Pete had enough affection for him to not go out of his way to see him nicked, or worse.

As he walked back to his more-affluent section of the city, he stopped at a café not much removed in state from the tavern he’d just left. The girls who seemed to hover around it were less afraid of the light of day, however, and were younger by half a decade or more than the whores in the slums.

Edward was feeling the satisfaction he experienced at the onset of any bit of business, and now that Uncle Pete was on the job he felt as if he was making progress. That, and the comfortable wad of banknotes in his pocket, courtesy his blind benefactress, had filled him with a sense of potency and physical randiness he hadn’t felt since he’d left the clutches of Lady Trey.

He took a table under the soaked awning of the café, and a boy came by within moments to take his order for coffee. In truth he wasn’t fond of the robust but haphazard way the French prepared the beverage, but the chill — and the depressing lack of tea in Paris — demanded something hot and wet while he surveyed the erotic possibilities his ignoble purse could afford him.

There seemed to be four ladies working the café, he noted. One was a red-headed Celtic lass, with pale skin and a constellation of freckles about her face; two were brunettes, native Parisians or girls from the country who came agonizingly close to being pretty; and one blonde of indeterminate origin who seemed more irritated and less approachable than the others, despite her practiced pretty smile.

Edward sat and enjoyed his coffee while he debated with himself. He had already discarded the idea of a liaison with the blonde, as he did not like her demeanor — and the memory of his passionate and strange coupling with the golden-haired Lady Trey made such a quick comparison unseemly.

The Celtic lass, likewise, he rejected, due to the pronounced way her teeth protruded from her mouth when she opened it. That ran counter to the operation for which Edward was anticipating employing a maid. No doubt the girl was skilled at her craft, but the gawkish nature of her countenance put Edward off.

As it was between the two brunettes, who lacked much to distinguish between them save the hue of their coats, Edward ordered a second cup of coffee from the boy and quietly switched tables to the table bearing the woman in the brown coat — arguably the more attractive of the two, and the one who fit Edward’s fancy better. Her name was Annette, and she spoke passable English — enough for Edward to abandon his horrid French in favor of his mother tongue. After a polite discussion of the dismal weather, an inquiry as to her availability and limitations, and the briefest of haggling about the price, a bargain was struck. Edward left the shot and a generous tip on the table and followed the mademoiselle’s round fundament through the rain and into the back stairs of a hotel three grades more common than the Hotel d’Bretagne.

“So, what does monsieur desire from petite Annette?” the French lass asked, as she unlocked a room Edward assumed was her studio. It was clean enough, he was gratified to see, if small and stark. There was bed that was the whore’s workshop, a table and basin, and a hook on the wall where Edward hung his coat. There was also a chair, made of sturdy wood but with a cushion of soft purple velvet that had seen much better days. “Shall I warm monsieur’s body with mine?” she asked, flirtatiously, as she rubbed her bubbies against his chest like a cat begging for cream. Her breath smelled of sweet strawberry preserves and bitter coffee. “Or shall we fuck immediately?”

“Just a bit of fellatio, if you please,” Edward said, enjoying the view of Annette’s lithe body under her delicate lace garments. “I trust you’re well-versed in the art?”

“Oh, mais ouis!” Annette assured him, nodding vigorously. “Annette can use her mouth in ways no English whore could imagine!”

The lass couldn’t be more than sixteen or seventeen — eighteen at the latest — but she had already begun adopting the jaded demeanor of an old professional, seductively asking to see the money before she took off more than her coat. Had her face been a bit more pleasing — her eyes seemed buggish, so large were they, and her chin was far longer than fashion dictated as attractive — she might have had hopes of attracting the attention of a minor aristocrat, or public official seeking a mistress. She might have made an ideal bourgeoisies wife, and could yet end her life as such, Edward decided. But she seemed enthusiastic about her trade, a capacity which Edward had always admired in a whore. Annette gently caressed his face and allowed him to kiss her sweet-smelling neck before he let her push him gently into the chair.

“Just fellatio?” she asked, her face the picture of innocence. “Are you so certain, monsieur, that you do not have time or coin to explore petite Annette’s other charms?” As she did so, the whore slowly extended her leg like a dancer, making a graceful arc with it until, shockingly, her knee was close by her cheek, while her alternate leg still stood straight as a ruler, stretching her pantaloons enticingly against her furry cleft. “Annette has many talents worth your money — though monsieur is so handsome, Annette hates to charge him at all!” She added a near-perfect whore’s pout, her lip extended fetchingly and her eyes wide and drooping with feigned sadness. Edward had to smile at her earnestness, and tenderly swept a stray lock of sable from her eye.

“As tempting an offer as that is, mon chere, I make a point of never fucking a woman while I’m planning an endeavor — I find it clouds my judgment and impairs my instincts. The calm I seek lies between these beautiful lips, not your . . . flexible knees. But after my work is done, if you please me I shall be happy to reserve your sweet cunny and tight arse for an entire evening.”

“Then I shall do my best to be . . . memorable,” Annette said, batting her eyelashes with flirtatious exaggeration. She pushed him gently into the chair and gracefully knelt between his knees, rubbing his bulge thorough his trousers and cooing admiringly. She wasted no time in freeing it from his flies, and after inspecting it briefly (there was plenty of the Spanish Disease about, of course) she began to delicately nibble on the head, her wide eyes glancing up at him while her tongue tickled his glans.

“Yess,” Edward hissed, leaning his head back in the chair luxuriantly as her lips delicately surrounded the head of his cock and began suckling on it delightfully. In truth, he found the practice of fellatio not only greatly calming to the mind, but positively unmatched in terms of inspiring creative thought. He had not lied to Annette — when he was planning a major job, he made a practice of avoiding pussy (his unexpected tryst with Lady Trey an unavoidable exception) because, he reasoned, with pussy there came complications. But the simple, honest act of having his cock professionally sucked was about as uncomplicated and rewarding an investment as he could ask for.

Annette’s dark hair tickled his thighs where it dangled and fell through his flies, but he was focused far more intently on how ardently the eager young whore sucked his cock. She had grasped the shaft of his prick with her left hand, whilst using the right to continuously brush her wild strands of hair out of her face so that he could witness the resplendent sight of his cock pushing into and out of her mouth. Annette studiously checked to ensure that her actions were pleasing by the simple expedient of watching Edward’s expression — but he doubted she would find anything amiss there. Her dancing tongue, so much more deft than Lady Trey’s unpracticed sucking, delighted his enflamed cock while her hand steadily pumped him towards a creamy oblivion.

“Is monsieur enjoying himself?” she asked, hospitably, when she had taken him to the brink of rapture — and then stopped. “Annette is not like English whores — she does not rush you to the petite morte, thinking of nothing but money . . . she takes her time and enjoys the meal!”

“Vive la France!” Edward, agreed in an intent whisper, as her lips and tongue descended once more the torment his prick with pleasure. He felt her other hand steal under the waistband of her pantaloons — the little brunette tart was frigging herself! “Let me see?” he asked, placing a hand on her head to slow her motion. She was startled and gave a yelp around his prick, then embarrassed for being caught by her patron, but when she realized Edward wanted her to continue, she jumped up to fetch something from her handbag before returning to her submissive pose between his knees.

“If you do not care to fuck me, monsieur,” she asked, a wicked grin on her face, “then perhaps you will allow me to pleasure myself with my new vibrateur. . . all the girls are mad for them right now!” she confided, with teenaged enthusiasm.

Edward was intrigued. “Might I see it?” he asked. She nodded vigorously, and presented the instrument for his inspection with all the ceremony of a feudal ritual. He was not unfamiliar with the French passion for dildoes — nearly every lady wife and her chambermaid in Paris had one of the illicit instruments tucked away in her bedding — but this was something else entirely. He saw that the head, a simple design that did not try to mimic the variations of the male member beyond the most elementary form, was of highly polished brass, while the body of the engine was beautifully finished rosewood, sanded and varnished to a glass-like smoothness. At the base there was an elaborate brass fitting, as ornate as a music box.

“It works like this,” Annette explained, after he examined it. She turned the base several times, producing a small clicking sound, before it was wound enough, and then she activated a switch on the base. The faux phallus immediately produced a small whirring noise. “It is . . . how you say? Rouage d’horloge . . . clockwork! Oui, it is a clockwork vibrateur . . . the most amazing, wonderful contraption the French ever invented!”

“So . . . what do you do with it?” Edward asked, failing to see the device’s purpose or utility beyond that served so admirably by an ordinary dildo.

“Well, monsieur,” Annette confided naughtily as she pushed the instrument into her pantaloons and, he assumed, against the slit of her cunny, “When I place the baton just so . . . and activate it . . . OH!” Annette yelped as she flicked the switch with her thumb. “It produces the most divine vibrations against my . . . my clitoris . . .” she gasped. “It makes the work go much more quickly!” With that the randy young tart returned to her duties servicing Edward’s prick. The familiar motions were now punctuated with gasps and moans as Annette pleasured herself, a situation which Edward approved of heartily — never had he seen a woman become as aroused as the little whore had with her device. And the sensation of her expressions of lust while employed sucking his cock produced a delightful sucking which, if erratic, was none the less welcome for its novelty and renewed enthusiasm for the task.

In fact, Annette had worked herself into such a fevered pitch with her wand that she nearly reached a climax — which Edward had intended upon sharing the moment she arrived — when the clockwork mechanism that inspired her so wound down and had to be attended to.

“It only works for about ten minutes or so,” Annette lamented as she hurriedly turned the base, her face flushed with excitement and exertion. “Then you must rebobinage! It can be so frustrating!”

“No doubt!” Edward gasped, entirely in sympathy with Annette. The randy little whore had brought him — again! — to the very precipice of pleasure before being interrupted, and it seemed as if his loins seethed with the expectation of release. Annette wasted no time in returning the vibrateur to the valley betwixt her thighs, and then once again returned her plump lips to the tip of his rampant cock.

This time, there were no interruptions. Edward was so close to exploding that he could only survive a dozen or so breathless strokes of fair Annette’s lips, and the whore in turn was on the verge of a cataclysmic release as the little device tickled her cunny to the point of distraction and ecstasy. Edward put a steadying, guiding hand on the back of her head but the whore was enrapt in her own erotic world, pumping his shaft between her lips as she humped against her intimate engine. Just as she abandoned herself to the throes of joy, Edward made his own contribution of an exquisite torrent of sperm, which Annette hungrily consumed as she returned to the mortal plane.

Edward allowed Annette to continue her licking and cleaning as long as she was game, and only reluctantly returned his flagging cock to his trousers as she finally stood — daintily belching from the exertion and consumption of his robust load.

“That was truly splendid,” he sighed. “Who makes such wonderful toys?”

“There are several clockworkers who make these clandestinely,” Annette explained, putting hers away lovingly in a velvet bag. “They are very expensive — mine cost me twenty francs — but worth every sous! The Church has condemned them, of course, but the nuns seem to be among the most devoted patrons.”

“No doubt!” Edward chuckled. “Money well spent — I enjoyed it immensely.” Edward tipped the girl generously, silently thanking Lady Trey’s own generosity for making the fellatio possible. If his purse held, he would be back to visit Annette again to repeat the experience, and he promised as much before taking his leave. It seemed an extravagant indulgence, he sighed to himself as he raised his umbrella against the afternoon’s rain, but in truth he felt ready to break into Versailles if asked after his incredible orgasm. And coming to Paris without indulging in fellatio with a Parisian whore would be like going to Scotland without visiting a distillery.

Indeed, in the absence of anything better to do the next day, after calling on old school acquaintance who had a business in Paris, Edward found himself at the same café, looking over the same girls, and eventually in Annette’s room again enjoying the fruits of her newfound pleasure. Despite her pleas he refrained from fucking her on principal, although he did, at her insistence, give her furry pussy and arse a thorough inspection with his fingers after she spent on her device.

When he returned to the hotel, he had a message waiting from Uncle Pete, indicating some success in his inquiries and a time that evening in which to meet. Edward indulged in a cab for most of the way, his feet tired from the walk, and had the coachman deposit him three blocks away from his rendezvous with his uncle.

“Very interesting fellow, that Cherensky,” Pete said in hushed tones after they had greeted one another and ordered a bottle of vin ordinaire. “His family was exiled for plotting to overthrow the Czar, but the charge is widely discounted as purely political in nature. But there was, apparently, ample enough warning for Cherensky’s father to get most of his wealth out of Russia before the order came to arrest them. Monsieur Cherensky lives in an old manor house just north of the city, near Saint-Denis, where he has a reputation for . . . unusual taste in friends. He considers himself quite the cosmopolitan, and has a small coterie of admirers and friends in and out of the government. He has three or four parties a year, and dines with company weekly. He can also be found in a few of the more fashionable salons on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, which suggests to my . . . source that he has a mistress of note he sees on those days.

“But the château . . . that is where the fun begins, lad,” Pete said, mirthlessly, as he sketched the grounds on a piece of foolscap with a carpenter’s pencil. “There is a wall around the house proper, and it connects with an older part of the estate here,” he said, drawing a tiny ‘x’ for emphasis. “It’s a medieval tower, the original castle of the estate. My source tells me that he keeps his precious items in the older section. Now ordinarily, I’d say that it would be easier to break the older lot — but not this time. Let me show you why,” Pete said, and then launched into a long and well-reasoned professional assessment of the best way to elude the servants, avoid the dogs (Cherensky raced dogs and horses, and three terrifyingly large Russian wolf-hounds patrolled the grounds, Pete explained) enter the old tower, remove the valuables, and then escape without detection. He concluded with a heavy sigh. “But it isn’t going to be easy, my lad. If it were me, I’d pass on this one. Too much trouble with no promise of reward — but then you got that promise aforehand, didn’t you?”

“I consider it a challenge,” Edward admitted, after looking at the hastily-sketched diagram and memorizing salient details before he ripped the paper to shreds and put half of the shreds in his pocket for later disposal. “I see the hardest part will be surmounting the main gate, then passing the dogs.” The dogs would not be that difficult, of course, once you hid a large pearl of opium in a bit of sausage. “But getting in that gate will be . . .”

“A challenge,” agreed Pete with another sigh. “Too high to mount it without attracting attention, even by the dark of the moon. And too much noise to pick the lock and open it proper. Attract attention, it would. And he does have a couple of stout lads on hand to deal with bounders. Get caught in there, lad, and it isn’t the gendarmes you need fear.”

“Not much of a climber if I can help it, actually,” Edward agreed. “I’d prefer to for someone to let me in.”

“A smash-and-grab?” Pete asked, confused.

“No, no, nothing so course. I’d never find the stone that way. No, I think that this calls for a more . . . subtle approach. It’s best if one is invited in, after all.”

“We all have our ways, don’t we?” Pete agreed, slowly. Being invited inside by the mark was outside of his purview. “Well, the details are here in this portfolio,” Pete said, tying up the package. “And it cost me a pretty penny, too—”

“For your trouble and good work, then,” Edward said, digging a twenty franc note out of his pocket. “And more when I have the item.” The note disappeared before it hit the table, and Pete looked around conspiratorially before tugging on his cap in thanks and slinking away into the night to eagerly spend his fee.

Edward studied the portfolio thoroughly that night in his room, and most of the next day, formulating a long list of questions he wanted to answer before making the attempt. He checked out of his hotel the next morning and relocated closer to his mark, in a small inn along the main North road to Saint-Denis. It was a busy inn, and one below his normal station (or, at least, the station to which he aspired) but it suited his purposes admirably. Securing clothes more appropriate to a tradesman than a gentleman, he found his way to the manor and skulked unobtrusively about the wall, noting the comings and goings of the servants and messengers. Unlike the rural Tudley House, this house nearly buzzed with activity.

He circled the estate with a surveyor’s tripod and a coil of rope, in pretense of taking measurements. There was no pretense, in actuality — Edward was taking measurements, not of the roadway but of the Cherensky estate. He had an accurate floor plan, thanks to Pete. But there were other things to measure. How many servant girls were there, and what were their ages? How many guards? Groundskeepers? A butler? Which tradesmen did the Count deal with locally? Who was his grocer, and when did he deliver — or did his staff travel to market? Who was his vintner? His tailor? His butler’s tailor? Edward filled page after page of foolscap with notes, questions, and even the occasional answer. After completing one complete, slow circuit of the estate he took his Spartan lunch back at the inn and spent an hour or two eavesdropping. He was far better at comprehending French than speaking it, so he was able to fill in some of the questions he had before returning to his observations.

For three days he took notes and studied his mark, refining his observations and narrowing his focus on the intelligence he found essential to his task. Then he expanded his investigations to the surrounding countryside. Which carters made regular deliveries, and when? How close was the train station, and which trains where scheduled? Where was the airship terminal, and what was its schedule? Where was the nearest livery stable? Nearest church? Nearest graveyard? Where was the police station, and how many men manned it during the day? The night? Which of the various criminal factions claimed ownership of this region, and could they be a help or a hinderance to his plans?

After the fourth day, he gathered his notes and headed back into the heart of Paris, where he secured lodgings at the same hotel he’d left earlier. He also indulged in a brand-new suit in the latest style, a treat that was also a necessary business expense, he justified in his mind. The suit and his knowledge of the aristocracy afforded him entrance to several exclusive salons and parlors where he made discreet inquiries about Cherensky.

The blank spaces and question marks began to fill in, and his nebulous plans began to firm as each new point of intelligence was added to his folio. When he finally decided he had a workable solution to the job, he celebrated by taking petite Annette to a bawdy show, then having her fellate him once in the carriage on the way back to his hotel, once again there, in the comfort of his room, and even chose to pay the extra and break his tradition by buggering the whore thoroughly while she plied her clockwork toy between her legs before retiring for the evening. He was so generous in paying her the next morning, in fact, that she had given him yet another delightful blowjob before she left. Then he began to execute his plan.

First, he met with Pete once more to arrange for a few things and pay the man again for his silence. With nearly half of his reserves depleted so far, and no concrete steps towards the goal yet taken, Edward was reluctant to pay off Pete so lavishly — but then the last thing he wanted was for word of who would be responsible for the theft to leak out. To anyone.

Once he was assured that Pete would procure what was necessary, Edward began haunting a particular cafe where Cherensky was known to pop in, supposedly for the taste of authentic Russian chai and hot chocolate. Two days and many, many cups of chai later, Edward was gratified by the appearance of an older gentleman that resembled the sketches of Cherensky in his portfolio. Edward ignored him, at first, while he was seated and ordered chai and croissants, and continued ignoring him until the exile had finished. But when the old gentleman finally pushed away from the table, Edward rose soon after and, affecting a stumble, plunged head-long into the Russian noble.

“Pardon mois!” Edward said, helping the man to his feet. “How clumsy of me! You must let me pay for your drink,” he insisted, wiping a few stray drops of chai off of Cherensky’s coat. “I insist — I had a bit too much to drink last night and am week in the legs.”

Cherensky looked, in turn, confused, outraged, concerned, confused again, and finally gratified. He thanked Edward for his assistance and declared that there was no harm or offense taken by the inadvertent stumble, and that he would graciously accept Edward’s generous offer to pay for his drink, before wishing the burglar a good day and leaving the café. Edward took his time settling with the portly little Italian who ran the shop, then left himself. He surveyed the street until he saw the fanciful hat the Russian had worn bobbing its way down the street.

Pulling the purse he had liberated from Cherensky’s pockets during his stumble from his coat, Edward made a mad dash up the lane until he almost collided with the man once again.

“Monsieur!” he called. “Monsieur! You have dropped your wallet!”

Cherensky was highly gratified at the return of the purse — it was heavy with money, and it nearly broke Edward’s criminal soul to hand a full wallet back to a mark. But Cherensky was so grateful that he introduced himself formally to Edward, and invited him for a quick drink of something more potent than chai. They settled on a tavern nearby, where the insidious Russian liquor known as vodka was available, as was the gin Edward favored. Ordinarily he steered as clear of spirits as he did cunt when he was planning a job, but in this case he indulged to further his enterprise.

Edward learned much of the man over their drink. Cherensky was an affable drinking companion, a true Parisian who used his Russian veneer as a social eccentricity. He had, after all, grown up here, and had mastered French as much as his mother tongue. Luckily, due to some business dealings with some firms in Amsterdam, he had also developed a passable knowledge of English.

Cherensky purchased the first round, in the process hinting that he was richer, more powerful, and better-connected than he actually was. Edward purchased the second, inventing a vague and nebulous business trip on behalf of an English patron he was on in Paris, to explain his presence. He also made a point of mentioning his interest in art, professing a desire to see the famous museums after his work was done. The two men parted well, pledging to repeat the experience should they ever encounter one another again.

Edward had gathered a tremendous amount of information from his brief meeting with the man, and rushed back to his room to add to his notes before his memory betrayed him. Two days later, he contrived to be at the same dog track that Cherensky favored, and again enjoyed a drink with him between races. Once again he mentioned his interest in art, and pretended he was considering purchasing a few pieces of interest while he was in town on behalf of his fictitious patron.

He made especial note of which of Cherensky’s aristocratic companions he seemed the friendliest with — a Parisian lawyer named Quillion seemed to be his closest confidant, despite his lack of noble title. Edward afterwards made some inquiries through Pete, who provided him with a summary of the man’s life. The next day Edward befriended Quillion at a restaurant nearby to his offices, where he indicated that he was considering a law suit against a business rival in Flanders. Smelling money the way all attorneys do, Quillion was only too happy to volunteer for the distasteful task, should it come to such dire circumstances. Edward made sure to leave the man with a fifty-franc note as a retainer.

With both the man and his friend and lawyer on goodly terms with him, most of his set-up was complete. He had his method of entry, his likely method of execution of the crime — all he lacked was a feasible escape. The problem was getting back out again, not getting in. He had a plan for getting in.

But once he caused the explosion he would need to break into the vault where the stone — and Cherensky’s other treasures — were kept, stealthily escaping with his booty would be almost impossible without harming one of Cherensky’s retainers. He considered, briefly, drugging them all to unconsciousness, but dismissed the idea — there were just too many of them, almost twenty, to ensure that each and every servant was unconscious before he made his loud attack on the vault.

He considered escaping over the wall, while the servants were busy investigating the explosion, but to do so he would either have to escape by employing a rope down the side of the ancient tower, exposing him to revelation to any casual observer in or outside of the compound — and then would necessitate a sprint across the grounds to scale the walls, or an attack on the gates to allow him to escape. Neither prospect suited him. But unless he could sprout wings and fly, nearly every scenario he had conjured had led to his capture.

So he elected to sprout wings and fly.

***

Airships had been originally a novelty, playthings for the wealthy and aristocratic, since the earliest days of ballooning under the Bourbon Regime. But it wasn’t until the first dirigibles were used in the throes of the Franco-Prussian war, a generation before, that the airship had become the dominant force on the battlefield — and, by extension, into the lives of everyone in Europe.

When the primitive prototype dirigible Das Rhineland appeared suddenly above the French lines during the Battle of Gravelotte, hailing missiles and bombs and sniper fire down on the defenseless French, it resulted in the near total collapse of the French Army in battle, and resulted in a quick end to the disastrous war. Napolean III had sued for peace almost at once, and had been forced to give up Alsace and Lorraine to the Prussian-German Empire forever — but kept his Empire.

The French were no stranger to the art of the aeronaut — indeed, not only had the first balloons been French, but Napolean I had been an early admirer of their clear military applications, and had supported the development of artillery observing balloons. But the floating observation decks were tethered, and therefore earthbound from their true potential.

The Germans, particularly the Prussians, were ardent enthusiasts who had favored rigid airframes which could be steered, in a rudimentary fashion. It wasn’t until the depths of the Franco-Prussian war that the dirigible finally came into its full potential, when the XZD-1, better known as Das Rhineland, appeared suddenly over the trenches of the French just after dawn at Gravelotte. The French had already taken a beating from the deadly fast breach-loading Krupps artillery — seeing a massive, ominous shape appear suddenly out of the mists overhead and rain fire and death down upon them while they were engaged on the ground in a losing debate was demoralizing to the extreme. For two hours the XZD-1 hovered above the fray, its four man crew providing a vital assault on the lines that allowed the Prussians to break through the trenches and famously capture French Marshal Bazaine. When the terrible airship was used a week later to help besiege the city of Metz, the French had had quite enough.

When faced with the choice of reinforcing Metz or conceding to a humiliating defeat by the Germans, Napolean III had sued for peace, and escaped the drubbing with only the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine — and his pride — the major casualties. More importantly, he had preserved the Empire from German aggression by the skin of his teeth.

And it was an Empire suddenly mad for airships. Determined not to allow a second shameful showing in the inevitable future engagement against the Germans, who now sported an empire of their own, Napolean III had invested heavily in the design of new ships, and within half a decade the first French Imperial Aerocorps ship Charlemagne was in service against the Basques in the Pyranees. Using naval rockets as well as dropped explosives, the Charlemagne went on a well-publicized three-week rampage that devastated the Uskandulak rebels in their remote outposts. The Empire had a new tool of war.

The first duels between two airships happened two years later when the first British military airship, the HMAS Dover, was intercepted by the 100 meter French airship IFAS Tours while interdicting smugglers around the Channel Isles. A twenty-minute skirmish with rifles, pistols, and a few rockets ended with the Dover retiring to its base on Gurensey with a ruptured balloon. After that, it was a matter of national pride for the major empires of Europe to employ airships as part of their military effort.

About that time, civilian use of the craft for trade began to flourish when some private enterprises realized the simple utility and security of moving valuable cargo via airship. In 1876 the first regular commercial airship service between Paris and Marsielles began, and by 1880 every major European city boasted a mooring tower. As the engines which propelled them became lighter and more efficient, the routes became more economical — especially with the generous subsidy provided by the Imperial Crown. Even the occasional tragedy was overlooked, as the gaily-painted ships of the air peacefully flew mail, money, legal documents and wealthy passengers across the French countryside without the horror of French roads or the haphazard nature of the primitive French rail system.

The wars and skirmishes between the European powers continued in the air, with new and deadly uses for the airships being continuously found. When the Italian army surprised the French Imperial garrison in Piedmont by employing three airships to move two companies of light infantry fifty miles in one night — over the sleeping heads of their foes — to precipitate a deadly flanking maneuver, the tactical uses of airships became apparent. When Irish rebels used a homemade airship to land assassins on the roof of Leed’s Castle and successfully murdered a Spanish envoy thought detrimental to their cause, the security concerns of airships became apparent. In 1887 a fleet of three Danish airships crossed the sea and looted three remote Polish villages down to their last copper, returning low in the sky from the amount of plunder they carried — ushering in a new age of piracy where being landlocked was no barrier to attack.

In 1888 the French employed six massive Imperial-class warships above the skies of their Indo-Chinese empire, provoking widespread submission to French colonial administration by the backwards natives, demonstrating the utility of the craft in imperial conquest. When the comical Louisianan Empire’s first French-made airship, the Emperor Aaron I, landed arms and munitions to the beleaguered Cherokee in their mountain stronghold in America in 1875 and helped win their freedom from American hegemony, the utility of airships in an insurgency became clear.

When Louis Napoleon, the rakish Prince Imperial, took to the skies above Paris in his own blue floating pleasure palace for his many assignations in 1879, inciting the hatred of the conservative Bourbonists and the admiration of the more liberal Parisian women, the possibilities of utilizing an airship for vice and prohibited pleasures was established. And when Baron Otto Kuiper returned to Berlin from India with a load of tea, silks, and spices on Christmas Day, 1882 — without one penny going to the Anglo-Dutch East India Company or the British Crown — the mercantile possibilities of the airship emerged.

If not for purposes of aggression or simple aggrandizement, then, every nation of Europe had to employ the craft in defense and interdiction duties. Even minor states and principalities purchased or made airships — or risked being looted from above by predatory interests.

France, of course, was the heart of the airship industry, and several private concerns toiled to fill the demand. French commercial ships were, arguably, both more lavish and more efficient at passenger travel and cargo than most of her major competitors, the Germans and the British. Paris, being the heart of the Second Empire, was a central hub of activity in the skies, so much so that the mooring towers had been consigned to the edges of the city, save for two commercial posts and a yard convenient for military and governmental airships, for fear of accidental collision over the dense city center to the detriment of the people below.

Routes into and out of the city encouraged traffic to fly largely above the rivers, when possible, until the outskirts of the city were reached. There was also an elaborate system employing semaphore and control spires that lined the established routes. Edward knew only the barest rudiments of airship travel himself, having only traveled that way when absolutely essential — and in Edward’s line of work, that was rare. Apart from a quick trip back from Paris to London on the occasion of his sister’s marriage, and four splendid days sailing off of the Canaries with his schoolmate Gideon Becker (and two local girls) on holiday in his family’s private air yacht, Edward had not been aloft.

He didn’t know the first thing about how to secure the use of an airship, nor how to pilot one should he steal it for the purpose. But he did know that the only way off of the roof of Cherensky’s chateau was by airship. Either that, or it was back to growing wings.

This was not the sort of thing to have Pete try to arrange. As adept as the reprobate was at arranging things, Edward would likely have better luck asking him for a noblewoman’s virginity as an airship — it was simply beyond the man’s purview. No respectable commercial airship company would consent to what he planned, and approaching the subject with his poor French would be, he was certain, a quick way to draw the attention of the gendarmes.

“I wish I knew where to find a bloody dirigible,” he muttered half to himself as Annette worked diligently to relieve him of his seed in her now-accustomed manner. He hadn’t meant to voice his frustration, especially in front of a whore whose loyalties were questionable at best, but that was what he was left with after nearly a week of fruitless prowling around airship yards.

“I know of one,” Annette said, popping his cock out of her astute mouth in surprise.

“Eh? You do?” Edward said, startled.

“But of course! Annette knows all of the airmen! There is one, an American, who comes by regularly. He works at a yard east of Paris. He . . . likes to lick my arse,” she confessed, blushing slightly. “And he has a lovely tongue! But then he does it the normal way. Always twice,” she said, as if reading cues from a note card.

“You do? Who is this American?” he asked, quickly. An American might be just the thing — likely not someone with a lot of Parisian ties — and Americans were notoriously adventurous. Suddenly Edward’s prospects began to improve. “What is his name?”

“William,” Annette pronounced. “I saw him here only yesterday, monsieur. He said he worked for an English man, but I forget — wait!” she said, suddenly. “I have it! He was in the city to purchase supplies for his ship, and left some of his papers!” Before he could stop her, Annette bolted up and began rooting around in the table next to the bed. “Aha!” she said, triumphantly. “There! There is the airship man’s company! And they are not so far!”

“Annette, you are a wonder!” Edward said, reaching for the papers gleefully. To his further surprise the young whore quickly pulled them out of his reach. Then he realized what she wanted. She was a whore after all. “How much?” he asked, sighing.

“How much?” she asked, indignantly. “What are they worth?”

“Nothing, actually, if I don’t read them,” Edward admitted.

“Silly. If I give them to you . . .?”

“Yes?” Edward asked, gloomily, realizing that this job had just gotten more expensive.

” If I give them to you . . . will you fuck me, finally?”

“What?”

“It is just,” Annette said, biting her lip fetchingly, “you are a handsome man, monsieur, and for weeks we have been playing at the same game. You come in. I suck your cock. I play with my cunt. You cum in my mouth. You leave,” she recited.

“Well, that is what I’m paying for,” Edward reminded.

“Oui, comprende vous,” she nodded. “However, Annette has been waiting . . . and waiting . . . and waiting for monsieur to finally put his big hard pretty cock, that poor Annette has had to endure tormenting her in her mouth over and over, and never in her pussy! And it is such a beautiful cock! I suck and suck and suck, and . . . nothing! Am I ugly? Am I horrible? Yet you do not fuck me — only one time in the arse! Perhaps you like boys, yes?”

“No!” Edward said, horrified — a few furtive school experiences notwithstanding.

“Annette is happy to hear it! If I give these to you, then you will fuck me, yes?”

Edward stared at the cheeky young streetwalker with amusement. That was a price he would certainly pay, tradition and superstition be damned. “Let me see them first? If they help me, then I shall fuck you to your heart’s content, as often as you’d like.”

“We have an agreement!” the whore said, exceedingly pleased, as she returned the document to his hand with a twinkle in her eyes. Edward quickly saw it was a supply manifest and receipt from a procurer in town, mostly for food and mechanical supplies. He looked for the agent’s signature, and then the delivery address — and a broad grin emerged on his continence.

“Annette, my sweet, do suck me hard for a moment more, and then I will fuck you as soundly as any woman in my life. You just answered my prayers, and if it is a fucking you want, I vow to piston you until you climax so utterly that your descendents three generations hence will feel it!”

“Monsieur,” she said, demurely dropping to her knees with Gaulish grace, “that is all I ask!”