Note: I borrowed a couple of names, a couple of details, and a bit of tweaked dialogue for this one from one of my three all-time favorite movies. Which movie?
It would have been a pleasant day. The sun, the ocean breeze, a soft humming of bees. It would have been a pleasant day if he’d been anywhere but The Village. The stroll would have been pleasant. If it hadn’t been for the man following him. The man, short with a small mustache, had been following him off and on most of the day. He’d lost him twice. Not this time. This time would be different. Around a corner on the path he side-stepped, hidden by the shrubbery. And he waited.
The man came briskly around the corner only to see an empty path ahead. He turned his head to the left, seeking, just as Number Six grabbed his right arm. In an instant the man was on the ground, Number Six standing over him.
“You’ve been following me all day. What’s it all about?!”
“I was trying to discern,” the mans accent was French, “if you were one of them.”
“And this is your way of implying that you’re not? Go tell your masters that it didn’t work. Of course they already know, don’t you!” Number Six looked directly into the camera that he knew to be hidden in the retaining wall to the far side of the small bit of lawn along the path.
“I’m sure they know everything that we do,” the man was brushing himself off as he got up. “You will realize in time that I am most certainly NOT one of them. Assuming, of course, that you are not one.”
“I don’t care if you think me a warder or a prisoner,” Number Six snapped. “Whatever anyone thinks,” and he looked into the camera again, “I am a free man!”
“Yes, I hope that you are. I remember Paris, April the fifth, three years ago,” and the Frenchman tilted his head slightly, examining Number Six, watching for a reaction.
Number Six held it in. His facial expression, his body language, and the tone of his voice all remained the same. But his heart rate was up in spite of himself.
“They know almost everything to know about me. It wouldn’t surprise me if they knew about Paris.” And it didn’t surprise him.
“I was at the Le Café de Flore. You never knew me, but I knew of you. My name is Renault. And I am NOT Number Thirty Five!”
Number Six watched Number Thirty Five, Renault, over his cup of coffee. If he was one of them he told an intricate and interesting tale. It was worth listening to for the entertainment value alone.
“So you see, monsieur, while you were seeking the files I was seeking the statue. You found the files. I was there that day. You were obviously an excellent operative to do such a thing in a public place, and in broad daylight,” the man chuckled. “I on the other hand was not so fortunate. It seems that the statue, along with the jewel, had been taken into eastern Europe. And there I could not follow.”
“Why are you here?” His coffee was getting cold. No matter. The war was cold too, and this man had obviously been involved. No doubt he still was, but in what capacity, prisoner or warder, only time would tell, if there was any telling to be done at all.
The man sighed, shook his head, looked down at the table and whispered, “It was a quirk of fate,” he looked up. “They think I know about Strasser’s assassination, who did the killing and why. I knew Strasser, it is true, but whatever else I know,” and he clenched his teeth, “they shall never know.”
“They have ways of making you talk.” Number Six smiled knowingly.
“They have never,” and the Frenchman’s resolve was evident, “dealt with Renault!”
Number Six, smiling, raised his coffee cup as though in a salute.
He had seen Number Thirty Five walking up to the Green Dome. To make his report to Number Two? To be questioned by Number Two? And now, the Frenchman returning, he watched as he approached the table.
He stood to one side, made a slight bow, and said, “May I, monsieur?”
Number Six waved his open hand towards the chair opposite, “Certainly. You can tell me more of Paris.”
Renault smiled. “Yes, Paris is my one true love. Unlike many others she has never broken Renault’s heart. Of course, there is always a first time,” and he laughed quietly.
“And did you frequent Le Café de Flore often?”
“Ah, yes. Almost daily that spring. I remember when the waiter caught his waxed mustache aflame with the candle.” Renault motioned for the waitress. “There was no lack of excitement that night. And the flies! It was so very hot that April, unduly so.”
And that small bit of information, the comment about the flies, was all Number Six needed. This man HAD been there. And putting all those pieces together he knew. Number Thirty Five was no warder.
“Odd that he should hit it off so well with Number Six,” Number Two sipped his tea, watching the screen.
“He’ll break soon,” the Supervisor commented.
“Yes, I agree. Perhaps we can use this attachment to our Number Six to speed up the process. Call in Number Thirteen for me, please.”
“And what brought you to this Village, my friend?” The Frenchman asked as they walked.
“I came for the waters,” Number Six responded.
“Waters? There are no waters,” Number Thirty Five looked at him, his curiosity apparent.
“I was misinformed.”
“Ah, and you … ” But the sentence was interrupted when two men, Numbers Seventy Eight and Ninety Four according to their tags, stepped out of the shrubs, one coming from the left and the other from the right, and both directly in front of Number Six and Number Thirty Five. Seventy Eight spoke first.
“You realize of course that you two, in spending so much time excluding others from your company, are beginning to look very unmutual.”
“I am tired of playing your word games and I am tired of excuses made to do the will of your masters.” At the word “master” the fight was on. Six struck first. This time if they were going to make problems they’d deal with one first.
Number Thirty Five didn’t hesitate. Number Six didn’t have time to watch, Number Seventy Eight was making a good show of himself, but out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of Number Ninety Four being leveraged and flying into the bushes. The Frenchman knew his Judo well.
Number Six, punching, was driving Number Seventy Eight back slowly. The man was a good boxer, Six would give him that. It was what happened next that was so unexpected. And, bluntly, very entertaining.
Number Ninety Four was crawling slowly out of the bushes when the Frenchman gave one swift kick that sent him reeling. Turning, Number Thirty Five ran a few steps ahead and to the side of Seventy Eight. He had a very broad smile on his face. He obviously enjoyed a good fight. Six punched, Thirty Five fell to the ground, and Seventy Eight stepped back. After he had fallen over the Frenchman Number Thirty Five scrambled to his feet and nearly jumped back to where Ninety Four was once again trying to exit the bushes. In an instant he had the man by the collar, pulling him up and out of the shrubs as he said with a pleased smile on his face, “Please, monsieur, allow me to assist!”
As Number Seventy Eight rose from the path, wiping blood from his mouth, Number Ninety Four landed on the ground next to him.
“You’ll both stand before the Citizens Council for this!” Said Number Seventy Eight as he backed away. And turning he ran, Number Ninety Four running behind him with a slight limp.
The Frenchman called out after his unworthy opponent, “Have a nice trip back to your keepers, monsieur!” And turning to Six he smiled and said, “Well, my friend, now that we’ve made an appointment with the Council, shall we go visit Number Two in order to make it official?”
“I believe I can make the time, yes.”
“Look at me when I speak to you!” Number Six struck his fist on Number Two’s desk. Number Two was standing up now, his face a deep red. “Play your games if you will, but be aware that the end move will be mine!”
“Number Six,” Number Two growled through clenched teeth, “and you as well, Number Thirty Five,” he shot a glance at the Frenchman, “I play no games. But I will do my job, and you will, the both of you, succumb in the end. Make what moves you like,” and he stuck his face out toward Number Six as though offering it as a target, “the playing field is The Village, and ALL of your moves will be confined to OUR board!”
The next day, as Number Six sat reading The Tally Ho ( he enjoyed fiction) he heard over the public address system, “Numbers Six and Thirty Five report to the Citizens Council, Number Six and Number Thirty Five, report to the Citizens Council immediately.” And folding the paper slowly, he finished his coffee before leaving.
“We would prefer to make this as simple and pleasant for all concerned as possible, I assure you,” said the man behind the desk at the Citizens Council. He was flanked by a dozen or so others, all setting there like mannequins. “What provoked such a reaction, Number Six?”
“Experience. They were there to start a fight, and being in the vicinity I decided to oblige and finish it.” Number Six, standing next to Number Thirty Five who was stroking his mustache in a very unconcerned manner, stood with his arms folded.
The man behind the desk sighed, and turning to Number Thirty Five asked, “And you?”
“I tripped,” he said dryly.
Sighing again the man looked over his glasses at his fellows, all of whom remained motionless, expressionless. “Gentlemen, I suggest to you that these two, Number Six and Number Thirty Five, being unrepentant of their unmutual activities, be handed over to The Village Adjustment League for educational purposes.”
Number Six began to applaud. Thirty Five bowed.
“Take them to Number Thirteen’s office, please.”
Part 2 comes later.