"you must have been here before," bates said.
"yes, but not lately." barras took another look around before they went through the door at jaspers. "it was out of the way before, but now it's in the middle of nowhere."
the proprietress was waiting for them in the front. "mister bates! back so soon, sir. with a party of - "
"hello agrippina, a pleasure to be back. a party of nine, this time."
"nine! excellent. that should require three booths, sir, but - "
"three booths is perfect, perfect." bates nodded to agrippina and took her aside.
"a corner booth if you have one, for myself, my colleague monsieur barras and one other. the others, wherever they like, but - " he lowered his voice - "not so close to us. give them whatever they want, but not so close. any problems?"
"none at all, mister bates. and we can seat you all right away." she smiled at him.
'and i see jerry has already claimed his comfortable chair."
there was a big easy chair in a corner of the lobby and jerry was sitting in it.
"oh ,agrippina, one more thing." bates drew her a little further aside, and spoke in an even lower voice.
"those two blue uniforms who were just in here, were they asking any questions?"
agrippina was a little taken aback. "oh no sir , not at all. they just bought some sandwiches, paid up and left." she thought for a moment.
"they seemed like a couple of rubes from rubesville, i don't think they even knew where they were."
"so they didn't ask any questions about anything?'
"absolutely not. they paid pretty well though, which surprised me a little."
"good. all right, let's get going."
they rejoined the others. agrippina respectfully addressed barras, after a slightly perplexed glance at jojo and quickly taking the measure of the others.
"i believe ypu've been here before, sir?"
"yes, i have."
you are monsieur the marquis - "
"just a viscount. barras."
"of course, of course. follow me, monsieur. all of you, follow me." agrippina rang a little bell in her pocket, and her husband, nero, appeared, with menus in his hands.
"good to see you, mister bates, and so soon."
"good to see you, nero. these are all my guests, please give them anything they want." bates nodded toward jojo and agrippina led bates, barras and jojo to a booth in the furthest corner of the dining room.
nero herded the others to booths just inside the entrance. bobo, lobo, and the two jockeys took one booth, and nero put major mudd and captain dave deadman in a booth behind them.
"you fellows all snug back there?" the major asked.
'absolutely top hole, major,'" bobo answered. they all began studying the menus.
darkness had fallen, and leslie and country girl drove through it, through dead silence. they had reached the waterfront shortly after leaving jaspers.
"waterfront," said lesliie. "bottom of the ocean is more like it."
d'annunzio dimmed the lights in his restaurant, and took a seat by the window. sancho and st james were cleaning up in the kitchen. sancho had made some sandwiches on the off chance somebody might show up.
when they were finished st james went outside and down the beach and under the pier. st bartholomew and kerouac were already there. a small barge was tied up behind them. it was low tide.
kerouac was making seaweed wine, one drop at a time falling into his bottle.
st bartholomew sat against a pillar with his back to the water, watching the highway.
a lone police van passed by.
the red light went on on the dashboard.
"yes, sergeant?" country girl responded.
"how are you progressing?" giselle's voice came in clearly. "are you near the waterfront?"
"we're driving along it right now. there isn't a sign of life, let alone any disturbance."
"yes. i have received confirmation that the waterfront was a false alarm."
"did you say something, corporal?"
"i expressed surprise, sergeant. i assume we are continuing to the 252nd?"
"absolutely. you will find a very different situation there. report to sergeant custer at the northwest corner. do you have that?"
"sergeant custer at the northwest corner."
"i expect you to make a good showing and acquit yourselves well. some senior officers might be there."
"we'll do our best, sergeant "
"you should be able to pick up a full complement of prisoners."
"should we bring them back with us, or somewhere closer?"
"back with you, absolutely. we want the credit here."
"are you clear on directions to get there?"
"we will stay on the waterfront until we hit 25 central, then go north."
"correct. carry on, corporal." the red light went off.
leslie shook her head, without taking her eyes off the dark road.
"we're going to bring a full load back, through this. all by ourselves?"
country girl pointed to the dashboard again. "we can handle it," she said aloud.
"if you say so."
"you need to pick the right prisoners. leave it to me."
"it seems we're not to enjoy milord's conversation," captain dave deadman observed to major mudd, as they both studied their menus.
"but that little fellow is. wonder who he is, eh? i thought he was a stable boy."
"he is," answered the major. "and a very good one. has quite the way with the animals."
"wonder what he is to lord vishnu there?"
"who knows? maybe he was his groom. maybe one of them saved the other from drowning. it's no concern of mine."
"i could hazard a guess." captain dave raised his eyebrows.
"i'm afraid i don't care for that kind of talk."
"ready to order, gentlemen?" nero appeared at the major's elbow.
the major laughed a little self consciously. "i'm afraid these new menus, with all the numbers, confuse me a bit."
"ah, the modern world sir, the modern world. isn't that the way of it? allow me to recommend the number five. it's what mister bates often gets."
"does he now?" said captain dave. "quite the mystery man, our mister bates.
comes here often, does he?"
"well as to that, sir," nero answered, "you could say that here at jaspers we are proud of our food, but it is only our second most important product."
"very well," said captain dave. "and the first is - "
"discretion, sir, discretion."
"of course. it shouldn't be any other way."
"but without compromising our discretion, there is one thing i can tell you about mister bates. and that is that when he says anything, he means exactly that - anything. so order up, gentlemen, order up."
"i'm looking at the menu," said captain dave, "trying to find anything that might have lobster in it."
"well, sir, the number six contains a creature we've found out in the marsh, that bears more than a passing resemblance to that fabled creature. some of our best clients have been quite satisfied with it."
"then it must be good enough for the likes of me. i'll have some."
"one number six. and you, sir?" nero asked the major.
"i'll have a number five."
"excellent. finally, as you are mister bates' guests, allow me to offer you some - " nero paused a full two seconds - "wine."
lorna, as she often did, had arrived early before relieving giselle. she was checking the activity log and paused.
she looked around. the station was almost empty, and major dreyfus was behind his closed door. lorna moved a little closer to giselle, and lowered her voice.
"you sent gantry and leslie out together, all the way to the 252nd?"
giselle answered without looking up. "columbus has education - today and tomorrow. it seemed logical. at least to me."
"i don't know if i would send anybody that far, let alone those two."
"captain kidd complimented me for sending troops so far afield."
"all right." lorna hesitated, then lowered her voice even more. "you know if they get in trouble, dreyfus and kidd will probably cover for them and blame you."
"i can't concern myself with that."
lorna glanced at major dreyfus' door again. "you should just let things take their course. gantry will trip herself up. leslie isn't worth worrying about."
giselle lowered her own voice so that lorna could barely hear her.
"you think i care about leslie? but gantry - she has a dark star following her, that protects her."
"now you're talking like a human. she's just been lucky. so far."
"how did she even make corporal? something is protecting her."
lorna gave a little laugh. "yes, dreyfus is protecting her, sort of. but do you think anybody is protecting him? just let things happen."
the office door opened and major dreyfus hobbled out. "early again, sergeant," he called out when he saw lorna. "i wish i had twenty like you."