April 3, 2006 at 5:01 pm #1950SophieParticipant
1846 Algiers, and the child who a quarter-century later shall be known in both select and sordid circles as Armand Caubarreaux is born, less than one year before the final defeat of Abd al-Qadir by French forces and the official founding of the First Orleanist Kingdom. His mother calls him Sifaks, after the ancient Amazigh king. His father names him Jacques Mallory Devereux, a surname borrowed from a deceased comrade to whom he ascribes the paternity of this child of rape and ruthless colonial domination. No birth record exists of the soul who entered the world in the shadows of the servants? quarters belonging to Major Jean-Michel Beaumont Guischard.
Bringing her two young daughters to join their father in the capital four years later, Madame Guischard finds the existence of her husband?s illegitimate offspring rather galling. Particularly so when Maj. Guischard begins to exhibit a preference for this male child once Madame produces a third infant girl. To placate Madame, her husband ejects the mother of young Jacques from their household. A French governess arrives soon after, and Jacques is educated alongside the other children of the colonial regime. For while his features bear more resemblance to those of his Berber mother, his complexion and coloring favor Maj. Guischard?s. Kept out of the Maghreb sun, he is as any other creole boy, saddled only with the simple social misfortune to have been born French on a faraway coast.
Beyond the colonial domain, in the darker corners of Al-Jaza?ir, he is his mother?s son. Her family has at last begun to truly accept him when she dies of typhoid contracted in an outbreak which ravages the poor quarter of Algiers that is their home. He is fourteen and left with none but the famille Guischard.
Major Guischard has risen in influence and become one of the governor?s foremost confidantes. His adopted son grows in the Major?s favor as he grows in years, often at his elbow: young Jacques Devereux, the poor bastard of that upstanding Lieutenant who otherwise seemed so honorable. Young, clever, unusually handsome Jacques Devereux, the distraction of so many well born girls and a continual irritation to their parents for being landless and without a sou to speak of save that Maj. Guischard bestows upon him.
Justifiably concerned for the future financial welfare of her four daughters, Madame Guischard decides she has had enough of her husband?s doting upon his half-breed bastard son. She begins to notice items missing around the household. Textiles, dishes, silver. She brings Maj. Guischard and Jacques before a bric-a-brac merchant bribed to point to the favored offspring as the seller of these stolen, resold goods in the merchant?s shop. Guischard suspects his wife of a ploy, but realizes it would be most damaging to their collective standing to accuse her of this scheme to discredit Jacques.
When soon after Jacques? eighteenth birthday Madame and daughter charge him with having laid inappropriate hands upon the young lady, Maj. Guischard concedes to remove the boy from their household. New living quarters and new employ will have to be found.
Jacques dedicates the time spent searching for these to other preparations.
While Major, Madame, and daughters are passing a leisure day at the governor?s home, Jacques strips the house in which he?s been raised of every last scrap possessing value. He empties Maj. Guischard?s cash vault and heads to the port, where he has booked passage on a merchant vessel bound for Malta.
It is 1864, and Malta has been a British colony for half a century. Combined with the islands? strategic location as an international port and British naval base, Jacques? natural wiles and recently acquired substantial personal wealth lead him to make several savvy investments with the European cotton and tobacco merchants who are taking advantage of Maltese farming. Over the course of a couple of years, he acquires both sound and corrupt business contacts from England, France, and around the Mediterranean basin. The aftermath of the second Opium War has brought about a period of cooperation between the British and French that is already well on its way to broken, but Jacques takes advantage of that rapidly waning goodwill wherever he can. He climbs and sinks, cultivating contacts at all levels of the shipping industry, from merchant-owners to the lowliest of the sailors and their crooked consorts, inventing and naming nearly a third as many personas as those he becomes acquainted with.
He buys an English name, British papers, and eventually leaves Malta for the continent in 1867. The associates of his associates are sought, and onward?the next layer, and the next. Legitimate investments, contraband arrangements, and many layers in between are prospering in major cities, lines cast out and reeled in by the man who at the advanced age of twenty-three has cultivated not only multiple aliases but also the reputations of such. Whatever name he wears and papers he carries, among the bourgeois, common, or criminal, he becomes known as the one able to acquire nearly anything for anybody who can produce the funds, be it the highest grade of opium for private use, the name of the cleanest whore at the most disease-free local brothel, or the savvy to know who to quietly contact with a line to Baku to get in on backing the nascent business of refining petroleum.
On a sojourn in Paris late in 1869, he is returning home from his evening?s entertainment when he comes across an unconscious young woman with dark red hair, tucked rather sloppily on the pavement between two buildings on lower rue Rivoli. In the poor light of midnight, he assumes at first she is a prostitute belonging to the Madam of a popular bourgeois brothel on the next block. With an eye toward maintaining good neighborly relations, he takes her for shelter into the flat he?s renting.
Upon closer examination, he decides the quality of her garments and the maintenance of her person are too high for a female belonging to the nearby Madam?s establishment. By such fortuitous finds, he knows, are reward monies earned. Hoping perhaps to claim such from the girl?s wealthy parents or husband, he has the girl doctored and allows her to rest up in his lodgings.
Problematically, when she mends and awakes, she hasn?t got a clue who she is or where she came from.
Briefly put off by the lack of immediate monetary incentive and with little to no inclination toward detective work that will take time away from his own interests, he decides nonetheless that he will keep her around a while. A whim. She is quite attractive and entirely helpless. He names her Roux, for her pretty, pretty hair.
For two years, they are traveling companions. A daring duo, if you will. He acquaints her with various levels of his continental enterprises and associates. He has learned, of course, that it never hurts to have the best-looking woman in the room on his arm, particularly when she too has learned how to optimize both looks and skills.
His relationship with this partner comes to a skidding halt when she?so far as he is able to surmise?decides that she has had enough of his company and doses him with lethal poisons. During what had been a pleasant summer gallivant in Vienna, he is left for dead.
Luckily, he is a savvy son of a bitch and quite familiar with the selection of poisons she prefers, having commenced to dose and build his resistance to them when first she began developing her expertise with toxins. He survives the fallout of her newly-discovered independence. She is gone from Vienna.
So is he, and where he turns up next is anyone?s guess.
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