A/N: Hello again everyone! Another tale in the massive 1830s AU/WAMP verse, this time concerning Gavroche. In which 'just another murder' hits too close to home when the victim is someone from the Thenardier siblings' shadowy past.
Disclaimer: I do not own any of Victor Hugo's characters, or anyone from actual histories. I do however set this tale in a massive alternate universe. A warning here too for quite a bit of blood and violence.
The Hand of Justice
Part 1: The Room Above the Bookshop
It was a fact that a fortnight could not pass in the Latin Quartier without some ruckus or intrigue rearing its head. 'To have a proper quiet one mustn't go looking for it,' Gavroche Thenardier noted as he stood under a tree by one of the quieter pathways at the Esplanade des Invalides. It was as fine an autumn day as a young man of twenty could ask for, the sort that was best spent out in the open air instead of at a desk in a musty office. 'Of course they get young hands to clear away the old moss at the Prefecture,' he thought as he wiped his hands as if to purge any traces of dust lingering on his fingertips.
A rustling overhead drew his attention prompting him to look up and stretch out his hand in time to catch an apple before it could bounce off his shoulder. He laughed as he saw the green tinge that still clung to the fruit's skin. "You'd make a rotten fruit picker, Laure," he drawled.
"Because I don't have long legs yet like you!" a voice chirped from up in the boughs. Another apple fell from the tree moments before a little girl shimmied down to the ground. She shook her golden curls out of her face before looking up defiantly at Gavroche. "One day I'll get as tall as Maman and I won't have to climb up all the time."
Gavroche snorted at this reference to his oldest sister. "She reaches the biggest fruit better, that's what," he said as he picked up the riper apple and tossed it to his niece. "Look at you, you're a mome in a dress, not a little lady."
"Still am!" Laure protested as she picked some dirt off the hem of her maroon frock. "There are no more red apples. Can we get my book now?"
"You'd sleep on pages if you could," Gavroche retorted as he jammed his tall hat back onto his head, allowing a few reddish strands of hair to escape in a way that would have had some of his stricter superiors frowning. He straightened up and dusted off the small detective's badge clipped to the collar of his blue morning coat. "What do you want to read about, how to go to the moon?"
Laure's dark eyes sparkled at this query. "Is there a book on it?"
"No, we need the book first on how to make a ship to get there," Gavroche replied quickly as they began walking towards the Rue de l'Universite, where there were a number of small bookshops fronting the old Palais Bourbon, which had now been turned into a library and convention hall. By now the park was a little busier, with a few small groups strolling and avoiding the few carriages that drove down the Esplanade's main road. Gavroche made sure to check his pocket for the two francs that his brother-in-law had handed to him earlier in the day for this specific errand. "So is it a book on stories or actual events?"
"Stories. It has pictures too so that I can share it with Julien and then with Tienne when he's bigger," Laure said as they exited the park. She scowled for a moment as she scuffed her shoes. "I don't know if they'd like it too, so I think they should get their own books like Uncle Neville and Uncle Jacques do."
"Now those two momes do sleep on pages," Gavroche muttered. His younger brothers had both turned out to be particularly academic his second youngest sibling Neville was passionate about the natural sciences while Jacques (no longer so little) had a talent for languages. 'Their sort of school suits them better,' he thought; he could easily imagine his brothers doing more than the minimum requirements at any university. As for himself, his talents and inclinations lay in a less bookish direction.
All of a sudden Laure broke into a run, stopping just in front a glass window of a brick building on the corner of the Rue de Bourgogne. "It's still here!" she announced cheerily before dashing into the cluttered bookshop. "Hurry up Uncle Gavroche!"
Gavroche laughed before sauntering into the store, which he noted to occupy the entire ground floor of what appeared to be a tenement, with an auxiliary access to the upper floors in the form of a narrow staircase that zigzagged up the side of the building. Once inside the shop he touched his knuckles to the brim of his hat by way of greeting the store's proprietor. "It's just to get a book for my niece. There is no need to worry, Citizen," he explained.
"I've never had anything to fear from your custom, Inspector," the squat, balding seller replied amiably. "What is this, your day off?"
"The first," Gavroche replied. Ever since he'd started his training as a detective at the Prefecture, he had very little opportunity for leisure; in fact he would have otherwise been cooped up at work if one of the senior inspectors hadn't noticed and forced him outdoors 'for his complexion's sake'. 'Or for simply taking in the air,' he thought as he glanced over his shoulder towards the bustling street outside.
The bookseller grinned at Laure as he helped her climb onto a stepladder. "Now a pretty little girl like you would like one of these books for ladies' lessons," he said as he set out several daintily illustrated paperback volumes.
Laure leafed through two of these books before shaking her head. "I still want that big book, please," she said, pointing to the volume in the window.
"Traveller's tales!" the seller laughed as he went to fetch the book. "Why would you like these ridiculous stories from far away?"
"Because they're new stories," Laure replied in a matter of fact tone.
"Are you sure? I have other new books."
"Maman and Papa said I could get the book if it was still here, and no one's bought it yet!"
Gavroche slipped the two franc pieces over to the seller. If Laure's cajoling wouldn't work, then certainly the sight of silver would work the desired wonders. "You can put something less startling to the ladies in the window now," he quipped.
"I will never understand children these days," the seller said as he began to wrap up the book, only to grit his teeth at the sound of a door suddenly slamming overhead. "Now what's with those damned lodgers-"
More footsteps came from the upper floors and now even the side stairway. "Someone help! There's been a murder!" a woman shrieked as she ran through the shop's backdoor. "Good God, Citizen! Someone get the police!"
Even before this lady was finished speaking, Gavroche was already out the door and racing up the narrow back stairs. In a few moments he was at the building's fourth storey, where by now a crowd of lodgers in varying states of dishabille were gathered around an open doorway. Gavroche wrinkled his nose at the unmistakable metallic tang of blood that had been in the air a little too long mingled with the first reek of decomposition. "Excuse me, a detective passing through," he said as he unclipped his badge from his coat.
"Now that was quick for you!" an old man wheezed. "Though not quick enough, this fellow should have been collared days ago!"
"Days! Why he wasn't doing anything!" a harridan screeched. "It's whoever pinched him who should have been caught. Can't believe you didn't hear it."
"I only live here, I don't mind the place!"
Gavroche stepped past these bickering neighbours, stopping at the room's threshold. A man lay in bed, covered by a rumpled heap of blankets; were it not for the crimson stains on the sheets and up on the walls, his attitude might have been taken for that of being at rest. There were no drawers or broken chests to suggest any sign of burglary, however the low ceilinged room's single window was just slightly ajar. 'No one flew this way though,' he realized as he went to the window, only to find that the side access missed it entirely; the stairwell terminated at a door that led to the far end of the corridor.
"Uncle Gavroche! That man isn't snoring!" Laure chirped from the doorway.
Gavroche turned to look at his niece, who was tiptoeing near one of the bloodstains on the floor. "Laure, please go downstairs. You can read your book there," he said quickly, signing to the bookseller to help him distract her. He also caught sight of a gangly boy gawking at the scene. "You've got wings large enough. Send word to the station house at the Place Bellechasse that there has been a body. The word is Detective Thenardier," he said, pressing a five sou piece into this youth's hand.
The buck toothed boy looked down at the coin and saluted. "Who should I look for?"
"Anyone there. I only need to move him," Gavroche said. There was no point in giving chase; it was clear to him that the culprit was long gone, and perhaps unseen at that. He examined the room again and stepped over to the bed. With two fingers he pulled back the sheet, seeing now that they were not torn and ripped in any way. There were only two stab wounds on the body, one slicing precisely across the throat and the other on the man's left side. Yet it was not this detail that gave Gavroche some pause; even with the rictus of death and the signs of decay this unfortunate's face was still recognizable. "Why what lays you low today, Mangedentelle?" he muttered.
"Do you know him?" an old woman asked eagerly.
"Only what the crows say," Gavroche replied as he did a double take, just to confirm that this lean, stub-nosed and long-toothed visage was the same as that in his memory. He caught sight of a scar on this man's right hand and shook his head; he knew the story from that particular mark. He turned at the sound of footsteps rushing up the stairwell. "You bounced here quickly enough Frassin," he greeted.
Frassin, a taller young man who also wore a junior detective's badge, blanched at the sight of blood splashing the walls. "Is he known to the Prefecture?"
"The older set. They would call him Mangedentelle,' Gavroche explained. "Someone's done for him and well enough. No marks."
"I've gotten some of the boys here to move him to the morgue," Frassin said. He clucked his tongue when he saw Laure still peeping out from behind the doorjamb. "What's your niece doing here? This is no place for children!"
"Downstairs was, Citizen Frassin," Laure argued. She looked at the bloodstains on the walls. "How did they get there?"
"That's for me to find out-after I bring you home. We're too close to the sky," Gavroche said firmly. "Give me an hour or so Frassin," he said to his colleague.
"I think this is more left for the Prefecture's office, if he is already known," Frassin reasoned. "I'll let Inspector Bahorel know you're ending your day off!"
"Make it an evening," Gavroche quipped before scooping up Laure to carry her back downstairs to the bookshop to pick up their purchase. In short order they were back outdoors, heading back to the Invalides and down to the gate opening to the Rue Grenelle. From here it was a straightforward omnibus ride down to the Place Saint-Sulpice, which by now was abuzz with vendors in the square and churchgoers hurrying to vespers. Gavroche and Laure alighted here and walked up a side street, then turned right to the quieter Rue Guisarde.
As usual the door of the 9th house on this street was left open, a sign that either the gentleman or the lady of the house was in the vicinity.. "Laure, there is one thing first-" Gavroche meant to admonish as soon as they entered the yard but Laure raced into the house and made a beeline for the study-reading room on the ground floor. He clucked his tongue before following his niece into the house. 'Now all quiet will be undone,' he thought.
In the study room Laure dropped her new book on a side table and rushed up to a lady who was just dipping a pen into an inkwell. "Maman! Uncle Gavroche and I saw a big man in a little room sleeping under a red blanket," she announced as she tugged on this woman's skirt.
Eponine Thenardier-Enjolras nearly knocked over her inkwell onto the translation she was penning but managed to right it at the last moment. Even at the age of twenty-five with seven of those years living away from the streets, she was still remarkably quick with her hands. "Laure! You and Gavroche are back so early!" she greeted as she picked up the child and smoothed out her hair.
Laure nodded quickly as she kicked off her shoes to keep from tracking mud on her mother's green dress. "Uncle Gavroche said we have to go home," she pouted. "It's because of something wrong about that big man."
"Which was, petite?'
"He wasn't really sleeping right but why did they look for the police and not a doctor like Uncle Combeferre or Uncle Joly?"
Eponine's brown eyes widened as she looked at her daughter and then at Gavroche. "What is she talking about?" she asked her brother.
"Someone got pinched above the bookshop," Gavroche replied. He shrugged as he saw his sister frown, perhaps from his use of argot. "I did tell her to stay downstairs, but she is fast."
Laure looked from Gavroche to Eponine. "Pinched? The boys at school get pinched all the time but they don't look like that!"
"No, this man did something terrible and he got in trouble for it," Eponine said. She kissed Laure's forehead. "Now you have to wash your face and put your book upstairs while I'll get some bread, cheese, and some jam for you and your brothers when they wake up from their nap. Can you be a little quiet for me, petite?"
Laure nodded again, now distracted by the prospect of an afternoon snack. "Will Uncle Gavroche also have bread too?"
"If he's not too busy," Eponine replied before setting Laure back on her feet. She waited for Laure to scamper out of the room before pulling a stray strand of reddish hair out of her face and then sitting up straight in her chair "You said pinched, and I s'pose that can only mean a certain sort of killing for a certain sort of person."
"What else could it mean? Gavroche asked. He knew that Eponine had a long memory for these sorts of matters. "It was Mangedentelle."
Eponine's jaw dropped. "The Lace-eater?"
"I knew you'd remember him," Gavroche said. "He still has that mark you gave him."
"I s'pose he would," Eponine murmured before biting her lip. "No one else was hurt?"
"You know how these things go, Ponine. In and out, quiet and about," Gavroche drawled.
"It's something of a good thing then." She reached for a note on her desk but she suddenly sprung from her seat and ran to the doorway. "Antoine!""
Antoine Enjolras met Eponine halfway but before she could throw her arms around him he instead tilted up her chin to kiss her. "I thought you'd still be busy," he greeted when he pulled away.
"So did I, but I s'pose it's just as well we're both back," Eponine said before embracing him properly then reaching out to help him set aside the bag of books and papers he was carrying. "Any luck today?"
"With some, not all matters," Enjolras said ruefully. Even though he had eschewed running for a second term in the Parisian legislature, he was still often entangled in public matters thanks to his work with the Ministry of Justice and various executive commissions. "The question of conditions in the prisons is never entirely resolved."
"At least they are living and not dying, and that always counts for something I s'pose."
Gavroche rolled his eyes at this banter, even if he knew he shouldn't have expected anything less from his sister and his brother-in-law. 'Just the same, like seven years ago,' he thought till he realized that Enjolras was also eyeing him curiously. "Laure and I had to hurry back here too," he greeted.
"That is peculiar. Did something happen?" Enjolras asked.
"The aftermath of a terrible scene," Gavroche replied. "My line of work though."
"If it's a matter of law, I could be of assistance," Enjolras offered.
Gavroche shook his head; as well meaning and brilliant as his brother-in-law was, his expertise did not cover these darker matters of the street. "Unless your court annals write down people by their street names, the ink isn't of much use."
"What he means to say is that a criminal has been killed, and not by the police," Eponine cut in. She was quiet for a moment as she looked down at the floor. "Oh what was his given name anyway?"
"He never called himself anything else but Mangedentelle," Gavroche said impatiently.
Enjolras raised an eyebrow. "An alias, certainly, and it sounds like-"
"Lace-eater, yes," Eponine finished. "I s'pose you could picture why he got his nickname-it had something to do with how he used to do with ladies he was intending to get more than sous from."
"When he tried to do the very same thing to you for his pickings, you slashed him across the hand and he called you a vicious cat," Gavroche supplied.
"I'm not sorry for it," Eponine retorted.
"That was illustrated well enough," Enjolras replied in a level tone as he clasped Eponine's shoulder. "Well then this is certainly a police matter. I do not recall anyone with that sobriquet being tried or released recently," he said to Gavroche.
"It is, but that's not what troubles me exactly," Eponine said. She went back to her desk and picked up the paper she had just set down. "This arrived a few hours ago. It's a note from Toulouse. There has been an attack, and Citizen Babet is dead and so Citizen Defarge-that's the Changer to you and me, Gavroche," she said as she unfolded the missive. "Montparnasse is alive, just so."
This news stopped Gavroche in his tracks; he had not heard these names in so many years, not since his sister had arranged for these three old friends to live in relative seclusion away from Paris. "Who did it?" he asked.
"No one knows."
Enjolras shook his head. "Is Montparnasse expecting any sort of assistance now?"
"No he merely means to inform, and told me to pass the news on to Azelma. You might remember that we all agreed that no hands or sous are to travel between here and their lodgings, not now, not ever," Eponine replied. "I s'pose I wouldn't think much about it if not for the news that Gavroche just mentioned about Mangedentelle."
"They worked together, I take that?" Enjolras queried.
"On some matters, not all. He was not the sort who'd get tangled up in the big businesses unless the cut was specifically good-and you know that the criminals haven't had much to do lately by the Seine," Eponine explained. "Maybe it's nothing, Antoine, but the timing does seem odd."
"Circumstantial," Enjolras pointed out. "The matter in Toulouse is in the hands of the local police. The Prefecture will certainly settle the recent murder here."
"Not recent. You should have smelled the place," Gavroche corrected. "I'll have some of that bread, cheese, and jam, but none of supper. The Prefecture is a poor mistress."
Eponine laughed wryly before giving him a serious look. "Please be careful, Gavroche. Whoever did it would be certainly waiting for a move."
"By grubby hands, not these," Gavroche said. All the same the weight in his sister's words was clear; this would not be a simple investigation. 'Who'd go through all the trouble of climbing so high for that sorry picker?' he wondered as he followed Eponine and Enjolras out of the study.