Dubois stood under the gas lamp at the end of Mile End Road smoking an awful English cigarette. From here he had a clear view down to the lodging house. To a casual observer he looked just like any of the thousands of injured ex-army veterans who had flooded London following the disastrous Afghan campaign. He leaned heavily on his crutch and lit another cigarette from the first, coughing at the acrid taste of the smoke.
Up the road a way was a hot chestnut seller doing a brisk trade. Sat behind the vendor on the steps of a boarded up terrace were two more men sharing a bottle of gin. Dubois smiled, he had schooled his ex-Legionnaires well. The chestnut seller was English, well an Ulsterman to be precise, and the other two were Germans. All had served France for their twenty-five year term and now they served Le Cabinet Noir, France’s secret intelligence service.
A slender woman with auburn hair stepped out of the lodging house opposite the trio and into the gathering gloom of a London evening. She carried an umbrella and wore a long, nondescript coat. From her attire she could be a Governess or perhaps a lady’s seamstress. To Dubois’ trained eye he could see the armour-padding in the coat and the bulge under her left arm where her shoulder holster was. No-one else emerged with her, so obviously she had decided to go out without her usual coterie of brigands. Dubois nodded to Kohl and Bergstein and they stood up and embraced each other, leaving the bottle on the step.
The woman looked left and right before descending the six steps to the pavement, slipping carefully around the two ragged children sleeping huddled against the railings. She smiled and erected her umbrella as if expecting rain. Then she swung it in front of her just as Kohl fired all six shots from his revolver at her. Dubois was astonished as all the shots pinged off the umbrella as if it were made from Lyons steel, then he noticed the electric blue sheen on it. Merde! She has one of those damned English inventions he thought.
As planned the Ulsterman had opened the back of his little cart and was throwing Dreyse carbines to his comrades. Kohl broke right and Bergsten left. Meanwhile their target had abandoned her magneto-static shield and dived behind a coal cart that was passing between her and her attackers.
For a few seconds the three mercenaries tried to get a clear view of their quarry, but she seemed to have completely disappeared. In the distance Dubois could hear the shrill whistles of Policemen attracted by the gunfire. He waved furiously at his men and they threw down their weapons before hurrying off into the traffic, going separate ways to confound pursuit.
Dubois turned to hobble away and straight into the barrel of a Mauser C96 Machine Pistol.
“I think that you might like to start explaining why an agent of the 3rd Republic and three Legionnaires are attempting to assassinate a British Lady on the streets of London Monsieur”. The French was perfect with a slight Marseilles accent.
Dubois slowly straightened from his crippled guise, letting the crutch drop to the ground, and stared directly into the violet eyes of Lady Helen Quartermain. She continued pointing the weapon at his face. Not the safest target, but certainly the most intimdating.
“Good Evening Mademoiselle, how very nice to finally meet you” he said, trying not to allow the shock of her sudden appearance affect his voice.
He noted that she was dressed in trousers, a worn military tunic and had her hair tucked under a cap. He glanced left and watched as a couple of toughs helped the woman in the coat down from the coal cart. He laughed at the simplicity of the ruse and his own arrogance in thinking that it would be this easy.
He looked back at Lady Helen who was also smiling and putting her Mauser away in its holster. She knew she was safe. No doubt half the men on the street were hers. What he couldn’t fathom was why he and his men were still alive.
“Wondering why you are still alive?” She said with remarkable prescience. He nodded.
“For a start I am not the murderous harlot you have no doubt been led to believe.” She smiled again. “Also I have been wanting to talk to you for a some little while to discuss the Toulouse incident.”
“Forgive me Mademoiselle, but your activities in Toulouse would indicate that you are a murderer.” He shrugged.
She put her hand inside her tunic, momentarily making him start, and drew out a silver cigarette case. She opened it and offered him a slim cigarillo. He accepted and taking out a match lit both. She drew heavily on her smoke and then her voice turned more serious.
“Toulouse was a sodding mess. I had been seeking to have an ‘interview’ with that rat Mitterand for some months but he had eluded me at every turn. Then I heard through a contact that he would be visiting one of his many mistresses on the Rue des Sauvages.” she said.
“You mean Deputy Mitterand of the National Assembly. A well respected politician and industrialist” he said. She gave him a look that made him wish he had not interjected.
“Alois Mitterand was a rat. He had sold me out in Algiers and was about to sell his country out to the Society of Thule.” she said through gritted teeth. There was an uncomfortable silence and then she resumed.
“The man was a scab on the backside of France Dubois. I shall give you the papers on this later, but for now just accept what I am saying, after all it is the reason you are still alive.” she said.
Up the road the Metropolitan Police had arrived in force. They were talking to several people and examining the weapons abandoned by the chestnut stand. Lady Helen, released her hair from its captivity and shook it out before stepping forwards and slipping her arm through Dubois’ before turning and walking slowly away from the scene.
Two constables were pounding down the pavement towards the scene directly in front of her. She laughed, gripped his arm tightly and placed her head on his shoulder. He patted her head and laid a little kiss on it. The Constables ran by and down to the scene of the crime. A few hundred yards further up the street they stopped and Lady Helen let go of her ‘beau’. For Dubois it was like waking from a daze. He could now see why this slim young thing was so dangerous.
“Anyway Mitterand obviously tried to pull the same double cross on the Society as he had on me in Algiers. However, the Society are less, shall we say, ‘forgiving’ than I. Mitterand was already dead when I arrived and all I could do was mop up the remaining Prussian agents before they set the whole building ablaze.” she said.
“An enchanting tale Mademoiselle, but what evidence do you have for any of it” said Dubois, his head now completely clear.
“I have the plans that Mitterand was going to sell to the Society, and the Prussian’s counterfeit Francs they were going to use to pay him for it. I could have sold those plans on myself, but instead have held onto them until I could ferret you out.” she said.
A large man approached the couple from an alleyway. In his hands was a briefcase which Dubois immediately recognised as being the type given to high level civil servants in the French Ministry of War. He took the proffered case and glanced inside it.
“By all accounts Dubois you are an honest man, so here is everything we acquired that night.” she said. She then pulled a folded slip of paper from her tunic pocket and handed it to him.
“Here also is the address in Paris where we have held the only survivor of that night, Mitterand’s accountant. He is pretty certain that Mitterand had friends in your office in Toulouse which is why he is so scared that he has cooperated fully with my men. You will have to move quickly as my chaps will leave him tomorrow. The rest is now up to you.” she said.
Lady Helen then rolled up her hair and tucked it neatly back under her cap. Without another word she turned and walked towards the alley. From here it would be an easy shot he mused, but he doubted that his hand would reach his revolver before several of her men shot her down.
If what Lady Helen had said was true she had just moved the gun sight off her back and onto his. Suddenly he felt very, very alone…