The Devil in Paris
"Poor Lucille, you always did what I wanted."
Kaspar gave the
body a push and watched it drop into the Seine. "Until you didn't."
He used the woman's scarf to wipe the blood off his switchblade, dropped the
scarf into the river, and watched both of them float away.
He turned and headed back to his home district.
At one time, it might have
bothered him to kill someone, especially a woman he had slept with on a regular
basis. But after surviving a Croatian orphanage, a civil war and the Western
Front, people had become expendable to him. Survival was the only value, and
his life was the only life he cared about.
Kaspar's usual bistro was like many - small, smokey
and reeking from a
combination of cheap tobacco, second-rate food and the foul-smelling clientele.
He was looking for a drink, a meal and some employment. He entered, took off
the beret that covered his straw-colored thinning hair, and ordered a
The bartender nodded and poured the drink. "Some
men are looking for
Kaspar gulped down the drink and banged the glass
on the bar for a refill.
"The police know you." The bartender poured the
two just had a description and asked if you did special jobs."
"Where?" He looked to see if he could spot the
he decided whether to talk to them.
"Corner booth." He nodded in the direction of
two men sitting
across from each other. Their suits were a few seasons out of date, although
that was not unusual in this bistro. The older man had a tight grip on a worn
leather briefcase while the younger scanned the crowd.
"Charge my drinks to them." Kaspar picked up his
walked over to the booth. He thumped his glass down and sat next to the younger
man, using his bulk to slam the young man into the booth's corner. His hand was
in his pocket, ready to use his blade on the two tablemates.
He addressed the older man. "You are looking for
The old man looked across the table. "Are you
. . .?"
"Depends." Kaspar was still suspicious.
"We have been informed that you can acquire things."
"One of my skills." Staying alive in this last
decade had left
Kaspar with many talents.
"And you don't ask the reason?" The older man
"I don't have the luxury." Morality was not one
qualities despite the efforts of the nuns at Saint Theresa's orphanage. He
learned to lie and steal to survive those early days. "Now, to business.
What do you want stolen?"
"What do you know about the Imperial Diamond Fund?"
"Rumor. Myth. Fancy name for Russian jewelry.
You want me to steal a
"Two pieces." The older man opened his briefcase
and took out a
set of pictures. He spread them out on the table in front of Kaspar. "This,"
he pointed at the picture of a necklace. "is the Diamond Riviere necklace.
And this," pointing at the other picture "is the Orlov Diamond."
"And you want them. . .?" His clientele's motivation
matter, but he was curious.
The young man spoke up for the first time since
Kaspar sat down. "We
represent the new Soviet government."
"Communists." Kaspar chuckled. "I met your type
trenches. Called for mutiny. Officers shot them on the spot. No mutiny."
"Then you understand the necessity of the workers
to claim their
property." The young man asserted.
"I understand politics get you killed. I steal
to live." Kaspar
turned to the older man. "I will steal these for you. You will pay me one
quarter their value."
"That's outrageous." The younger man exclaimed.
him into the corner again and took out his switchblade, flicking it open.
"What is outrageous is the number of unsolved
murders in this
district." Kaspar muttered loud enough so both could hear.
The older man began to panic. "Excuse my colleague.
understand the world. Here let me buy you another drink." The old man
signaled for a waiter and ordered a round. Kaspar folded his knife but kept it visible.
Kaspar stared at the older man until their drinks
arrived. "I don't
negotiate." He threw back the drink. "You accept my price?"
"Yes! Yes!" The older man was eager to end their
He had dealt with feral men while a young revolutionary. They were effective
because life had been hard for them, and they were willing to do whatever was
necessary to survive.
"Okay." The drink and agreement had settled Kaspar
do you you know where these are?"
"Yes, they are in the possession of the Grand
Kropotkin and her daughter, the Duchess Marie."
"If you know who has them, why hire me?"
The two men glanced at each other. Kaspar knew
what they were thinking. "Because
you cannot be seen as the thieves."
"Our government is already unpopular with elements
of the French
government. Accusations of illegal activities would not help our cause."
The old man offered as an explanation.
"And I am to be your goat." Kaspar added.
"I would not put it …."
"I do not care how you would put it." Kaspar put
his knife away
and pulled on his beret. "I accept the job. Come back in three days. If
police contact me or I am followed, you two will see what I learned in the
The World War and the Russian Revolution produced
several communities of
immigrants. However, Croatians and Russians did not mix, so the introduction he
needed would have to be through the criminal community.
The woman he wanted to talk to was easy to find.
She was at her regular
corner and was easy to spot by her bobbed platinum hair. She was smoking a
cigarette and chatting with a nervous young man in an American uniform.
Kaspar grabbed the young man by his epaulets and
threw him to the ground.
The soldier was about to fight when Kaspar flicked open his blade. "Piss
off." he snarled, which sent the soldier scrambling. Losing his virginity
was no longer a priority.
"Kaspar." He was well known among a particular
was a customer. Are you looking for some variety? Bored of Lucille?"
He ignored her questions. "Anya, you still being
pimped by the
"Yes, but you can pay me. He trusts me to give
him the money."
"You mean you are too scared to cheat him. No,
I need to talk to him."
"And I need to make money. So, either pay me for
my time or leave so
I can find another customer."
Kaspar took out a thick roll of francs. "Suppose
I pay you for rest
of night?" She stared at the roll. "Introduce me, and you can get a
She snubbed out her cigarette on the sidewalk.
"Follow me." She
turned and headed down the street to a small cafe. It was not much different
than Kaspar’s usual bistro except for the Russian which flavored most conversations.
They walked to a back corner booth where a heavy, bald man sat eating a meal.
He looked up from his meal to see Kaspar and the
woman. "What are you
doing here?" He asked. "And why is he here?"
Kaspar sat down opposite the man. The two stared
at each other for a few
minutes before the woman was dismissed.
"You are Nikolai?" Kaspar asked.
"You know this, or you would not have paid Anya
to bring you here. I
know you, Kaspar." The man stopped to drain a beer glass. He raised it to
signal the waiter for a refill. "I don't usually do business with Croats."
"Croatia is lost cause. I am only Kaspar."
"Okay, only Kaspar. What do you want?"
"I need to find Russian nobles."
"Since Revolution, there are lots of nobles. Some
work for me. You
want real or fake?"
"Real. Their name is Kropotkin."
Nikolai raised his eyebrows at the mention of
the name. "Important
name. Your business with them?"
"My business is my business."
Nikolai leaned back. "Then we have no reason to
keep talking. You
find Anya. You already paid for her."
Kaspar drummed his fingers on the table for a
few seconds before
continuing. "They have some things that I want."
"Ah!" Nikolai exclaimed. "Imperial diamonds. What
think they have them?"
"I have been told."
Nikolai closed his eyes and swayed his head before
maybe I help. What do you need?"
"They are in your community. I need to know where
Nikolai opened his eyes and eyeballed Kaspar.
"And what is the value
of my help?"
Kaspar was silent. Finally, he spoke. "Twenty
percent of what I get."
Nikolai signaled to have his plates cleared. "No,
you will lie to me
about what you make. You pay me specific amount. I get money whether you steal
He wiped his mouth with the napkin and tossed
it on the table. "For
address? Four thousand franc."
"Three or leave." Nikolai nodded toward the door.
"And if I leave?"
"No Russian will talk to you. So, we have a deal?"
folded his hands.
Kaspar nodded in agreement. "Deal."
"We drink on it," Nikolai ordered two vodkas.
When the drinks came, the two gulped them down.
"Okay, you come back
here tomorrow, and I let you know what I find."
Kaspar arrived at the cafe a half-hour before
the appointment. He took a
position that let him keep an eye on the door without being conspicuous and
waited. Nikolai came in accompanied by his two thugs. They took seats by the
entrance while he went to his usual booth. Kaspar signaled a waiter to have
beers sent to the thugs. While they were drinking, he slid into Nikolai's booth
across from him and far enough in that Nikolai's henchmen could not see him.
"What have you found out?"
Nikolai signaled for drinks. "It cost me money."
"Your problem. I only want information."
The drinks arrived, and Nikolai took a sip of
his before speaking. "You
know, I could steal diamonds myself."
Kaspar let his drink sit there untouched. "And
I could slit your
throat before your two boys saw me. Now information."
Nikolai finished his drink and ordered another.
He stared at Kaspar while
waiting. "You know, I asked about you. People say that you are devil with
no sense of guilt."
"Guilt is what nuns and officers use for control.
Church and Kaiser are
the same. They make rules so only they prosper."
"HAH!” Nikolai chuckled “You sound
"Revolutions just change who makes rules and who
prospers. Now, do
you have information or not?"
"Of course. The young Duchess is working as shop
girl. One of my
girls is watching store. She'll follow her to get address."
"You trust this girl?" Kaspar was suspicious.
"My girls know what happens if they cross me.
Girl should be here
soon. We eat. My treat." Nikolai ordered for the two of them. They ate in
silence. Just as they finished, a thin, black-haired girl approached the
"I followed the woman and got you the address."
Nikolai a slip of paper. He looked at it and murmured. "I know this
address." He turned to the woman, "Lexi, you did good job. Take night
The woman was relieved. "Thank you, Nikolai."
and left before he
could change his mind. A waiter took away the plates and brought drinks.
Kaspar put out his hand. "You give me the address,
and we are done."
Nikolai sat back and held the paper to his belly.
"You will need
help, I think."
"I work alone."
Nikolai sipped his drink. "We should renegotiate
"I could still slit your throat." Kaspar jammed
his hand into
his coat pocket to retrieve his blade.
"But you would not get out.” Nikolai indicated
the door. “My boys are
Kaspar looked at the two thugs and calculated
his ability to make it out
alive or with minimum injury. The odds were not good. "What is new deal?"
"Where there are two jewels, there are more. I
help get what you want,
and I get the rest."
The two men stared at each other. Finally, Kaspar
grunted. "Okay, but
you. Not your boys."
"You don't trust them? They're good."
"I don't trust you. This way, you can't double-cross
Nikolai finished his drink. "Done. When do we
"Tomorrow evening at six. We meet here and go."
"Okay. Tomorrow. Six in evening." Nikolai chuckled.
way, we're done for dinner."
The next day, Kaspar was early to make sure Nikolai
did not send his thugs
in his stead. Once Nikolai arrived, Kaspar checked the street.
"Where are your boys?" Kaspar worried that they
would be waiting
at the address.
"You are very suspicious man," Nikolai said.
"I am man who is very alive. Now, where are your
Nikolai sighed and pointed into the cafe. "In
there. You can see them
at the bar."
Kaspar gave a quick look and saw the two men at
the bar eating a meal.
Once he was sure they would not follow, he nodded to Nikolai to lead on.
After a short walk, they reached what had once
been a fine Maison de
Ville. However, sometime in the past, it had been converted into cheap
Nikolai motioned up the stairs, inviting Kaspar
to lead the way. "They
are on top floor."
Nikolai nodded his assent and climbed the stairs.
When they got to the top
floor, Kaspar took a position on one side of the door. Nikolai asked in Russian
for the Grand Duchess.
She opened the door, giving Kaspar the chance
to slam the door open and
grab the old woman. He pushed her into a chair and threw the rope he had
brought at Nikolai. "Tie her up." After checking in the hall that no
one had heard them, he grabbed a scarf that had been draped on the couch and
used it to gag the Grand Duchess.
With that done, he sat on the couch. "Now we wait."
around the sparsely furnished apartment. Besides the chair in which the Grand
Duchess Alexandria was bound, there was a couch, a bookcase, and a small dining
About a half hour later, they heard footsteps.
Kaspar took a position by
the door. The Duchess Marie opened the door with her key and entered the room. Kaspar
grabbed her hair and pulled her into him with his left hand. His right arm
wrapped around her neck and applied pressure to her neck. Finally, he kicked
the door closed.
"Hello, Duchess. As you can see, your mother has
us." The Duchess could now see her mother tied and gagged. Another man was
standing behind her.
"Now, I am going to let you breathe. If you yell,
it will get very
The Duchess nodded as much as Kaspar's chokehold
allowed. He let her go
and gave her a push toward the sofa. She took a place so she could take her
mother's hand. They had a quick exchange in Russian that Kaspar assumed was
about the Grand Duchess' status.
"What do you want?" The Duchess asked while continuing
her mother's hand. "We are poor refugees."
"That is not what I have been told." Kaspar sat
back in a chair
he pulled from the dining set. “I heard you have some nice jewels.”
The Duchess slumped briefly before sitting upright
and looking Kaspar in
the eye. "Those are not ours. We are holding them for the royal family."
"You will be waiting a long time. I hear they
are dead and buried.
So, they might as well be mine."
The Duchess said nothing and continued to sit
there defiantly. Kaspar
exhaled in exasperation and walked over to where the Grand Duchess Alexandria
was tied up. "I am just a peasant, but even I know that your royals are
delicate. Once stuck, they continue to bleed." He took out his switchblade
and flicked it open. Leaning over, he cut open the sleeve of the Grand Duchess'
blouse and trailed his knife along her vein. "You are young. Maybe I open
vein, you survive. Mama is old. Who knows how long?"
Kaspar closed his switchblade and sat back down
in the dining chair.
"See, I am reasonable." He leaned forward. "Now,
"In the chest over there." Indicating a box on
the top of a
Kaspar directed Nikolai to bring the chest over
to him. Looking it over,
he saw that there was a lock. "Key?"
"Here." The Duchess took off a chain from around
her neck. A
small key hung from it. Kaspar stood up and walked over to the Duchess. He took
the key in his hand, stroked the Duchess' face and then trailed his fingers
down her neck. "See, I'm not that bad. Who knows? With more time, we might
have been good friends."
The Duchess shuddered. "Just take what you want
"Interesting proposal," Kaspar responded with
a leer before
taking the box and the key over to the dining table. "But business first.
Let’s see what we have." He opened the chest and emptied cases and bags on
the dining table. Each box was opened until he found the two items he was
looking for. He took them out of their cases and dropped them into separate
velvet bags he had brought. Meanwhile, Nikolai was stuffing the other jewels
into his pockets.
"Enough," Kaspar ordered. "Let's go." Kaspar looked
the two nobles. "Now, what do we do with them? We could kill them. You
know, for the sake of the Revolution." He took his thumb and mimicked
slitting a throat.
"We gave you what you want!" the Duchess exclaimed.
leave us!" She started to cry.
"True, but you are witnesses, and I don't like
"Kaspar! What do they know?” Nikolai pleaded.
“Two thieves robbed
them of jewelry they weren't supposed to have." Nikolai was a pimp and
sometimes thief but was careful about never killing someone.
"Still." Kaspar took out his knife and flicked
it open. "No
witnesses is safer. I like safer." A trail of bodies from Zagreb to Verdun
to Paris was evidence of Kaspar's instinct for self-preservation. He pointed to
Nikolai with his knife. "You have jewels. Maybe you buy their lives from
me? Half of what you grabbed would be price."
“But . . .”
Kaspar quickly crossed to Nikolai and put the
knife's point to his throat.
"Of course, you are witness too. Perhaps I kill you and take all the
jewels." He stepped back but kept the blade at Nikolai's throat. "Make
up your mind. Like you said, this job will be done in time for dinner."
Nikolai realized that the knife and Kaspar's size
gave him no option if he
wanted to live. "Fine." He reached into his pocket for some of the
jewelry bags. "Here."
Kaspar pocketed them and his knife. "See, life
is better for everyone
if everyone is reasonable." He turned to the two women. "If I hear
from you or the police, I will come back and finish what I started. Understood?"
Both women nodded.
The two men left, parting company, when they reached
A few nights later, Nikolai was found dead with
his throat cut along with
the two men that worked for him. Anya and Lexi were no longer seen on the
Kaspar was eating dinner in his regular bistro
when a small nervous man
approached his booth.
“Mr. Kaspar?” The man whispered.
"May I?" The man pointed to the other side of
the booth. Kaspar
grunted his permission to sit.
Kaspar continued to eat while the man sat anxiously
fingered the brim of
his hat. Finally, a waiter took the dishes and brought a drink when he was done.
While he was waiting, Kaspar examined the stranger.
With his drink in hand, Kaspar finally addressed
the stranger. "Now,
who are you, and what do you want?"
"You may call me Mr. Cairo."
"Strange name. Now, what do you want?"
"I understand from some friends in the Russian
community that you
have a certain knack for, shall we say, acquiring things of value."
"You mean I am thief. I am, and a good one. As
your Russian friends
will tell you. What is it you want stolen?"
man leaned forward. "There is a certain bauble that I wish to acquire.
Have you ever heard about the Knights Templar?"