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Chapter 1


Written by NicoPony
Last updated: 01/02/2007 02:01:11 AM

Chapter 1

It isn't every day you find yourself riding aboard the world-famous Orient Express, traveling east from Calais to Istanbul. And yet here I find myself, sitting in my private cabin across from a beautiful woman.

The beautiful woman wasn't such an odd occurrence. I find myself amidst such persons on a daily basis. However, this beautiful woman, wearing an intense scarlet silk Japanese dress, short black hair stylishly coifed, and shapely legs crossed, also happened to be an arch-nemesis of a sort.

It isn't every day you find yourself sitting across from Yukio, worldwide thief and all around pain in my ass. She was demurely sipping her tea while I was contemplating her ankles. I'd never seen them before, and I found them to be quite lovely. With a sharp kick to my shin, Yukio then chose to remind me of my feelings toward her.

Yukio and I had come to a truce of a sort, perhaps because of our shared relationship with Ororo Munroe, also known as the X-Men's Storm. Maybe our truce had been attained because neither one of us had yet decided to fling the other out the nearest window. Most likely, we had established peace because we each knew why the other was here, although we had chosen

not to discuss the topic.

It is every day that I find myself to be a thief. In front of the X-Men, I'm something of a noble Robin Hood figure. For the most part, they seem content with this image. It helps them cope the less appealing attributes of my chosen occupation.

My chosen occupation is the reason I'm here now, sitting on the Orient Express, across from Yukio, in a dangerous stalemate. Though for all outward appearances, our meeting seems to be pure coincidence. For the moment, we are both maintaining this charade. Inwardly, I know we are both after the same thing.

Yvette Bienchot is a very wealthy woman. More so after the passing of her late husband; a computer information systems mogul. Yvette's taste for 1920's opulence lured her to the refurbished Orient Express. Her taste in art lured me to find her. Yvette

recently purchased Le Cahier, one of Pablo Picasso's many sketchbooks, at auction.

Normally, this would be a passing fancy to me. However, Picasso's Le Cahier contained more than the master artist's sketches and studies. During the time Picasso was at work on his famous Les Desmoiselles d'Avignon, a selection of African sculpture was stolen from a Parisian exhibition. Picasso himself was aware of where these items were being held. Eventually, the

sculptures were found and returned to the museum; or at least very good replicas. This fact was known only by a select few. For all outward appearances, the sculptures at the museum were the real deal. However, us thieves knew better. Le Cahier is rumored to contain clues to the location of the real sculptures.

Dr Amitay contacted me to remove Le Cahier, and the secret whereabouts of the African sculptures, from the possession of Madame Bienchot. He traces his ancestry back to an African tribe who lays claim on the idols, and it is his interest to get them back.

The lure of exotic locations and an intriguing pinch couldn't be resisted. Then there was the matter of Le Cahier itself. Amitay's interest, as far as I was concerned, lay in the sculptures only. The ownership of Picasso's sketchbook was up for grabs.

But I hadn't counted on Yukio being here. I had no doubt she was after the same prize.

There was a knock on my cabin door.

"Yes?" I called as the door slid aside.

A young man wearing a red overcoat announced: "Dinner will be served in the dining car in twenty minutes."

I nodded to him in thanks as he slid the door shut.

"Shall we?" I asked Yukio, as I stood to leave.

Of course, she couldn't let me out of her sight. With a tight-lipped smile, she stood and smoothed her skirt. I offered my arm and mustered a genteel smile. Taking my offer as sarcasm, she shoved me aside, flung the door open, and marched down the hall. I watched her exit the sleeping car. Even in heels, she walked like a boy.

There were a few people gathered in the dining car. Most would show up fashionably late; women dressed in flapper gowns and men in their 20's period-style tuxes. I scanned the crowd and found Yukio sitting at the bar. Dismissing her, I sought out the woman I was sent here to find.

Madame Bienchot was a young woman, only just older than I am. Judging from the snapshot that I was given to identify her, she was blonde, with brown eyes and a huge rack. Pardon my French. What I meant to say is that she had big tits.

I found her sitting at a back booth, staring at the passing countryside and sipping a martini. A man approached her, I assume trying to pick her up, and was quickly rejected.

He sidled past me. "Bitch," he muttered under his breath.

That wasn't a good sign. I hoped to have better luck than that guy did. If I struck out, however, Yukio would not let me live it down. As it was, she was all ready sneering at me with disdain.

I cautiously made my way down the aisle toward Madame Bienchot. Her attention seemed intent on the door behind me, staring blankly as she sipped her drink. I walked past her table and paused. Crouching, I let a small pin drop into my hand.

Turning to Yvette Bienchot, I proffered the lapel pin. "Pardonnez-moi, mademoiselle," I said, "did you drop dis?"

Yvette's eyes flicked to the pin I held in my hand. "No," she replied before glancing up at me. She paused a moment before saying: "Another passenger must have dropped it."

"Dat's a shame, it seems t'suit you," I said.

Yvette's eyes seemed to sparkle and she smiled up at me.

"Are you waiting for your husband?" I asked, turning to look at the door she had been so intently staring at.

Her smile evaporated. "No, I'm afraid not," she said.

"A beautiful woman, traveling alone?" I asked. "Now dat really is a shame."

Her eyebrow raised critically and she sighed. "Are you going to sit down, or not?" she said finally.

Smiling, I sat across from her. At least I had been accepted into her company, even if she was on to me.

"Will you be traveling to Istanbul?" I questioned.

She smiled again, the same smile she gave me when I first spoke to her. It was as if she knew of a joke that only she was in on. "No, I'll be stopping in Transylvania."

"Really? You mean with de vampires and werewolves?" I replied. This was news to me. According to her travel records, Yvette was making the full trip to Turkey. "I hope you're not planning on visiting family there."

"Could be," she said, chewing the olive from her drink. "You can never quite be sure who you're in the company of, especially on the Orient Express."

"You've been reading too many Agatha Christie novels."

Yvette grinned and flicked her toothpick into the martini glass. She turned to her handbag and rifled through it before producing a shiny black compact. I paused the conversation to allow her to check her makeup, or do whatever it is that girls do with compacts. Instead of fluffing her hair or re-applying her lipstick, however, she just held the makeup case

between her hands.

She looked as if she was about to speak when her eyes glanced over my head to the doorway behind me. My eyes followed her own. Behind me, two men in dark trench coats were poised at the doorway, scanning the crowd.

"Excuse me," she said, standing.

"Dinner hasn't been served yet," I said, trying to stop her. "Won't you stay?"

"I've found I've lost my appetite. It was nice meeting with you Monsieur LeBeau," she said over her shoulder. She walked down the aisle, squeezing past the other mingling passengers, toward the front of the train.

I began to stand in order to pursue Yvette, when I realized the black compact still lay on the table. I covered it with my hand and pulled it toward myself just as the two dark men walked past my table. I watched from my booth as the two disappeared from the dining car, after Yvette.

"Weird," I thought to myself. Yvette was obviously wary of the two men. But that was only my second concern. She had called me by name, but I didn't recall introducing myself.

I wondered if Yukio had witnessed the exchange. I looked at the barstool where she had been sitting, but she was no longer there. She wasn't in the dining car at all.

"Damn," I said.

So while Remy was making nicey-nice with the pretty Yvette Bienchot, I decided to make my way back to the sleeping cars, to see if I might be able to find Yvette's room on my own.

Remy may sweet talk his way into Yvette's boudoir, but I prefer a more direct approach. I passed numerous doors to the passenger cabins and headed to the back of the train, where the coachmen worked. It took me awhile to find the passenger records. Being a first class luxury cruise, the uniformed coachmen were busy meeting the passengers' needs.

Finding what I needed in the guest book, I headed toward Yvette's cabin. But first, I had to pause in the little girls' room to re-arrange my stupid pantyhose. It was safe to do some poking around in the sleeping cars. All the passengers would be in the

dining car by now; eating their frilly French cuisine, sipping champagne, and listening to the pianist play Chopin.


I wasn't into that crap. Give me a handful of ninjas and some Limp Bizkit and I'll be happy for a few hours. I paused in front of Yvette's door and glanced in either direction. I was completely alone for the moment, save for the clacking of the train wheels on their rails. I tried the door on a whim. Amazingly, it was unlocked.

That was weird, considering the woman was carrying nearly priceless merchandise. I slid the door open. It only opened about a foot before thudding into something. The room beyond was dark. I gave the door another push, and whatever had been blocking its path slowly moved aside. Reaching my hand into the room, I flicked on the lights.

To my shock, I realized that the head of a woman's body was making an effective doorstop. Judging from the blonde hair, I guessed her to be Yvette Bienchot, though it was hard to tell for certain since she way lying facedown. She was quite dead, having been shot twice in the back.

My stomach turned. I hadn't been gone from the dining car that long, despite my pantyhose riding up on me. How could she have been killed in such a small amount of time?

Remy wouldn't have killed her, would he? I knew he was a dirtbag and a lying shit, but a murderer? I suppose he's done worse, but damn, I thought things had changed. So much for me seeing the good in people. Well, maybe I wouldn't put it that way. I more or less see the "decent" in people.

The door at the far end of the passenger car clicked open. Standing between the cars were two men dressed in dark coats. I slid into Yvette's room and closed the door behind me. The room was in shambles, probably due to a struggle rather than someone

rummaging through Madame Bienchot's belongings. I pulled out her luggage from beneath the sleeping cot and rifled through it. There was no sign of the item I sought. In the closet was a pair of delicate gowns in garment bags. At the bottom of one, I found a black laptop bag containing a package wrapped in brown paper.

There was a knock at the door. "Madame Bienchot," came a voice from the opposite side. "Can we speak with you for a moment?"

"I'm busy!" I called, grabbing up the bag and slinging the strap over my shoulder.

"This is an important matter, Madame Bienchot."

"Go away!" I shouted, spinning around the room in hopes of finding an exit.

Someone banged on the door with a fist. "Open this door!"

I jumped up on the small table under the window. I pulled the curtains shut. The bad thing about trains is that once you open a window, you can't shut it again. And there was only one way to open a train window. I spun and struck the window with my heel. The curtains buffered the blow, but the heel of my shoe broke off nonetheless. Stupid women's wear.

Can't even survive a roundhouse kick to a pane of glass.

Behind me, the door burst open. I winced as the dead Madame Bienchot took another beating as the two men flew into the room. It took the pair a while to take in the dead body and the wrecked room. I took that moment to grab hold of the roof ledge and pull myself out of the broken window.

"Stop right there!" one of the men shouted, but by then, I had made my way to the roof.

I lay belly-down on the roof of the speeding train. My skirt flipped up over my head.

Damn, I thought.

I left the dining room when I saw the two men retrace their steps and head back toward the sleeping cars. There was no sign of Yvette. I waited until they had left the car before following.

They paused in the second passenger car and knocked on a door. Their voices grew louder as their knocks went unanswered. Eventually, one of the men slammed his shoulder into the door, breaking it open. Both dashed inside.

I walked quickly down the hallway toward the now-open door. I came to a halt just outside. On the floor was the body of Yvette, shot twice in the back. At the far end of the room, the two men were looking out of a broken window, each holding a gun.

"Mon dieu!"

The gun-toting pair turned their attention on me. In retrospect, I suppose I shouldn't have shouted. Our eyes met before I spun on my heel and ran down the hallway.

"Stop!" one of the men shouted.

The bad thing about trains is that there's nowhere to hide. The only way to retrace your steps is if you change into someone else completely. Then there's the roof. But all adventurers know that the roof of a train is a good place to get your head chopped off by an overpass or smashed by a tunnel entrance.

Still, it makes for an exciting chase scene.

There were doors between each car. Kicking the door open, I leapt, just as the two men caught up to me. Just outside the door were a pair of gold railings. I swung out on one before pulling myself onto the roof. The black compact slid from my pocket and clattered across the curved roof. I dove after it, and almost sent myself flying off the side of the train.

The two men were leaning out of the train, looking for me, presumably. "Oh, hi dere!" I said cheerfully waving the compact at them. "Just powdering my nose! Be back in a minute!"

"He's got it!" one of the pair shouted and pointed at the compact.

"Well, my nose was shiny," I said before pulling myself back onto the roof.

It is cold on the roof of a train at night. Colder still is the roof of a train riding through the Alps between Zurich and Vienna. Lying on my stomach on the roof of the train, I held the black compact before me. It opened with a click, and a pair of small lights

came on beside the tiny mirror inside.

"Oo.Cute," I said. However, instead of lipstick or various other assorted face-goops, there was a shiny gold CD. "Oh, I see," I said trying to piece together the significance of the compact. "Waitaminute, no I don't."

"It's government security information," said a voice behind me. "Brought to you by TrezBien Technologies. My late husband's company."

I looked upwards. In the moonlight stood Yvette Bienchot, gold hair streaming around her face. She was holding a gun. I took that as a bad sign.

"You're not dead," I said.

"Oh, Yvette's dead," she replied. "That's a certainty."

"And you would be.?"

"Give me the compact!" she barked, thrusting her hand forward as I stood.

"Nobody move!" a voice called from behind me. I turned to the sound of guns being cocked. The two men stood aiming at the both of us.

"Hand over the CD, Mister LeBeau," one of them said.

"How did you know---?" I began.

"We're with Interpol. That disc contains confidential information, which was about to be deposited in the wrong hands. Now drop it and we'll forget we saw you here, LeBeau."

"Drop" was probably the wrong word for them to use. "Okie doke!" I cried, flinging the compact into the

air and shoving my way past the doppelganger Yvette.

The little black compact spun end over end and landed right in the hands of Yukio.

"Yoink!" she said, turning on her heel and running toward the front of the train.

All four of us took off running after her. Chances are, we'd catch her eventually. There was only so much train. I leapt across the gap between the train cars and managed to catch up to her first. My hand hooked on to the strap of the bag she was carrying.

Unfortunately, the cold climate had begun to slick the roof and we both slipped.

I slid off the side of the train, clinging to the satchel around Yukio's shoulders. The bag opened and a book struck me in the head. Compulsively, I grabbed the falling object.

"Le Cahier!" I could've danced with joy if my feet were on solid ground.

"Remy!" Yukio called, extending her arm. "Give me your hand!"

"And drop the book? Bite me, Yukio!"

Yukio let out an exasperated cry and grabbed me by the lapels. She was stronger than she looked. We both clamored across the roof and glanced behind. Our pursuers were no where in sight.

"Do you think they fell?" I asked.

"No, you moron! Look!" Yukio said, pointing. Up ahead was the obligatory tunnel entrance.

Just then, the train brakes began to squeal. Sparks flew from the wheels, white hot against the snow. The tunnel entrance hove closer and closer into sight.

"How much space do you reckon dere is between de tunnel and de roof of dis train?" I cried over the sound of the train.

"Just enough to shave a bit off the top!" she replied.

The Orient Express began to slow. "At least I'll die with the most beautiful thing I've ever laid eyes on in my arms!" I said.

Lying next to me, Yukio turned her face to mine. "Remy! I didn't know you felt that way! I don't know what to say!"

"I meant Le Cahier, not you!"

The tunnel entrance was almost upon us. The train screamed against the pull of the brakes. I decided to close my eyes. Amazingly, the train stopped. I looked up. The tunnel entrance loomed just above my head. I looked down into my arms. Yukio was clinging to me with her eyes closed.

Her eyes snapped open. We looked at each other.

"Aagh!" we cried in coincidental disgust. With a shove, we both slid off the roof and into the snow.

"So, uh," I began. "What do you think happened?"

A coachman leaned out a nearby door. "Sir, madam, for your safety, please return to the train. There's been an avalanche up ahead."

"Safety, my ass," Yukio muttered. "Some chick's been murdered and I just got chased across the roof of a train."

"I think the chase across the roof was an optional event on this particular vacation."

The two Interpol officers leaned out the door and beckoned to us. Reluctantly, we walked over to them like two children in for a reprimanding.

"The disc?" one of them asked.

Yukio pointed out at the mountain range. "I think its somewhere out there."

The pair looked at her critically, then at each other. "Fine," the other muttered. "Come inside, we need to talk."

"Yvette Bienchot was planning on selling the data on that disc, which she lifted from her husband's company after his death," the officer began. "Apparently, the company was failing, and Monsieur Bienchot left his wife in terrible debt. Yvette was something of an over-spender as it was."

We were all seated in the dining car at a booth. Many of the other passengers were gathered here, discussing the avalanche which left us stranded.

"What happened to Yvette's twin?" Yukio asked.

"Not her twin," the officer replied. "A shape-shifter. And we lost track of her when we were forced to leave the roof."

"So chances are, she's still on the train," I said.

"The woman is nearly impossible to catch. We almost had her here in the dining car."

The crowd gathered in the dining car cheered when the train's brakes squealed and the car began to move.

"Well, gentlemen," I said as I slid from the booth, "if you have no more business with me, I'll be returning to my cabin."

They begrudgingly allowed me to leave. It must have been painful to allow not just one brilliant globe-trotting thief to get away, but two. Yukio followed my exit.

"So you were after the disc all along?" I asked her.

"Yeah, I guess," she replied. "But morality tells me I should return the information to the right people. Chalk it up as a loss I suppose."

"I always knew you were a decent person," I told her. I paused in silent contemplation. "Say, how does Romania strike you this time of year?"

The train paused in Sinaia the next morning to tour the Peles Castle. We slowly separated ourselves from the crowd of tourists. Yukio and I walked abreast along the outside of the castle, rounding one of the building's many decorative walls, and losing sight of the rest of the Orient Express' entourage.

We paused in the gardens, milling expectantly. A figure stepped from behind a carefully trimmed hedge.

"Allo, Mystique," I called.

"Ah, very clever Remy LeBeau," Mystique said, shifting to her base form. "You figured it out."

"Hey," I said, shrugging, "I try."

"You make a good murderer, Mystie," Yukio said. "But as a thief, you suck."

Mystique graced Yukio with a rather unlovely sneer.

"The disc?" she asked.

"In the hands of the proper authorities," Yukio replied. "As you should be."

The pair of Interpol agents revealed themselves behind Mystique.

"Oh, how very noble of you," the shape-shifter crooned as the agents apprehended her. I even think she might have rolled her eyes, as if she were putting up with some horrid practical joke.

"We're just doin' what we can t'save our own butts," I replied. I saluted the two officers. "Good luck t'you two. You'll need it."

"Doesn't it make you feel all warm and cuddly inside?" Yukio asked me after the trio had departed.

"I say they make it as far as Bucharest."

"Budapest, at the most," she replied.

"So, are you planning on sticking it out to Istanbul?"

"Not a chance," Yukio said. "If I have to wear another pair of pantyhose, I'll go insane. I will. Besides, I need to get over the major case of freezer burn I've got on my ass."

"I was hoping to return to Paris, myself. I've got a meeting with a set of missing sculptures."

"Hah," Yukio snorted. "Won't get far without this," she said, turning and waving a piece of paper in front of my nose.

"What?" I said. "What is that?"

Yukio studied the yellowed sheet of paper with raised eyebrows.

"You didn't," I said.

Yukio smiled. "I'll see you in the Moulin Rouge," she said before shoving me aside and breaking into a sprint.

"How could you!" I cried, dashing after her. "You've ripped a piece out of history! That sketchbook is priceless!"

It isn't everyday you find yourself in Romania, chasing a beautiful woman through a castle dating from the 1800's in pursuit of a page of Picasso's sketchbook. It isn't every day that I make out looking like the good guy. Well, at least in

comparison, I looked like a good guy.

But it is every day that I find myself to be a thief, walking the line between the noble hero, and contemptible criminal.


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