Eli Poppele Piece for 5/11/17

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Eli Poppele Piece for 5/11/17

Post by Keeper of the Histories on Wed May 10, 2017 1:45 am

1896

Barnard Black clutched his top hat as he leaned into the wind. He raised an unsteady hand, trying to shield his eyes from the fierce Utah sun. Ten meters ahead of him, his opponent had shakier footing, trying to regain his balanced as the train rattled beneath his feet. Barnard, on the other hand, stood steady on the steel roof of the passenger compartment. He had always known that neodymium-soled dress shoes would come in handy one day.
“We meet again, Monsieur Charnier,” Barnard called out, mispronouncing the title as something that sounded like monshiur. “But this time, I am afraid, shall be that last.”
Charnier was very much out of breath, having just run the entire length of the train in search of Barnard, but he thoroughly despised monologues and wasn’t about to let him prattle on. “Indeed it is, Barnard. You have made your last mistake.”
Even with the wind blowing sharply in his face, Barnard was sweating in the summer heat. He could see that Charnier was reaching for something in his coat pocket as he spoke. It was likely a handgun, but Barnard went for his handkerchief nonetheless. He mopped the sweat off his brow, confident that Charnier would not shoot when his vision was obscured. It would be ungentlemanly, and rude.
Charnier seemed to be thinking along slightly different lines, as he pulled out a gleaming silver revolver and fired. The hammer clicked, but nothing happened. Barnard was slightly upset that Charnier had tried to kill him, but that thought was quickly wiped from his mind as the train rounded a bend and charged onto a suspension bridge over a wide gorge. At the end of the bridge, the track run through a tunnel cut into the cliffside.
Charnier was frantically scrambling as he tried to load up a single shot from his spare cartridge. Despite being a man of astounding intellect, he was too focused on the weapon to understand why Mister Black was sliding his shoes backwards across the roof as quickly as he could manage. The magnetic shoes did have a downside in making ordinary walking quite infeasible, Barnard reflected, especially at that one dinner party on the Eiffel Tower.
“You never have been particularly talented in preparing for the unplanned, Charnier,” Barnard called out, though it was entirely untrue. “You’ve always believed that things would run perfectly as planned.”
Charnier didn’t respond as he locked the cylinder back into place. Barnard was now glancing into the gorge passing below their feet. “Why, even now I perceive a giant banner behind you that bears the word, ‘gullible.’”
It was a pretty cheap joke to kill a man with, but Barnard knew it would guarantee that Charnier would not look behind himself to see the fast approaching tunnel, with clearance too low to pass through unless one lay prone on the roof of the carriage. They were still a hundred meters from the tunnel, enough time for Charnier to take another shot, so in a final act of complete lunacy, Barnard Black slipped out of his shoes and leapt off the side of the train in a perfect swan dive towards the roaring river below. A startled Charnier fired quickly at Barnard, but only managed to leave a clean bullet hole in the falling man’s coattails before he met a very sudden stop with a very hard rock.
Barnard, on the other hand, had a slightly less sudden stop as he plunged into the river, striking the rocky bed at a somewhat higher velocity than he would have desired. He flopped onto the river bed with a smarting pain in his foot and a broken ankle.
The journey home to London was long and arduous. It took a full month of carriages, trains, steamboats, unplanned hikes, and elaborate alibis (Barnard was particularly skilled when it came to the latter). Waiting in a train station one day during the interminable journey, Barnard noticed a copy of the Times left abandoned on a bench. One front page story bore the headline, “French Politician Dead in Bizarre Accident,” with a grainy photo of a man with a hooked nose and a large scar beneath his left eye. It was certainly Charnier. Barnard dropped the paper with a slight sigh and left to catch his train.
It was raining when he arrived in London, and Barnard found himself lacking an umbrella. He walked home in the rain, limping through the door of his house thoroughly soaked. He headed off upstairs, stopping in the drawing room where his elder daughter was engaged in a game of bridge with her friends, one of whom was Charnier’s estranged daughter.
“Ah, Miss Charnier…” Barnard addressed her, leaning on the stairway banister for support. “I’m sorry to inform you that your father is dead.”
“Oh, thank God,” She responded, turning back to her cards. “Five, no-trump.”
Barnard turned and headed back up the stairs, grumbling to himself about finding a pair of dry socks.
* * *
A few weeks later, two men were digging a grave in London. The sun was only just coming up, hidden behind a thin veil of fog. The funeral would be later that day.
One of them spoke. He had an American accent and was clearly not a local. “Funny death, this one was. Pretty strange to find a Frenchman dead on the roof of a train in Utah.”
The other man grunted a response as he set leaned on his shovel to catch his breath. He wasn’t used to hard physical labor. “Heard they found an extra pair of shoes, too. Stuck on the roof.”
The American continued, seemingly oblivious of the fact that the second man’s British accent was obviously fake. “Wonder why some French bloke would want to be buried in London anyways.”
The second man produced a handkerchief, wiping sweat and condensation from his face. “Perhaps,” He said as he rubbed a large scar that ran beneath his eye. “He had some unfinished business.”
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