Neustrie Found

…some work in progress from the Cazique of Poyais story…

It took them the best part of two days To navigate a foreign language and unwilling assistants to find a place where traders talked gossip and shop.  The most popular place was a coffee shop on the banks of the Seine.  This was not to be confused with the cafes dotted around Paris in such numbers, but rather a talking shop much like Lloyd’s coffee shop in London.  

It was all business and shipping gossip at the coffee shop, nothing personal.  As such, it was quite odd to see a pair of women walk in with a man.  It caused a momentary glance from all patrons of the shop.  Though they were all so consumed by their business affairs that no one paid them much attention.

“Where do we start?” Asked Jose as the three of them huddled in a corner of the shop as away from the crowd as they could be.

“Do you see anywhere that looks like a registry?” Suggested Emma.

“How about the man, do any of these look like him?” Noemi asked of Emma to no avail other than peaking Jose’s jealously once more.

There were no easy answers.  All they knew was that the owner was a man, which didn’t help, and that he aspired to prominence in South America, which somewhat narrowed the search, but not by much.  They spent the afternoon asking around to the few who would listen.  None recognised the person they were looking for.  No one so much as pointed them in a direction which might help.

As the busy period of the day winded down, they were left in the corner of a room with only a few inhabitants.  They had held out hope that they would find the man that day as MacGregor was already becoming impatient.  It didn’t appear they would have such luck though given that it was highly unlikely that any of the men remaining was the one they sought.

In the middle of the room a patron made a particularly garish laughing noise to another man who seemed wholly unimpressed.  The other man made his excuses and promptly left the coffee house, leaving the garish laugher to find a new target.  A waiter wandered by picking up empty coffee cups and glasses, but did so in such an expert fashion as to avoid any possible interaction with the garish laugher.  Clearly the waiter had been caught in his vice before and didn’t feel the need to become trapped once again.  

As he scanned around the room he saw many faces that he recognised as being quite unkind or otherwise not very interesting to him, but then he laid his eyes on Noemi, Emma and Jose standing in a corner, looking somewhat clandestine.  It wasn’t often that younger people such as themselves found their way into the coffee shop and even when they did, usually they were some hanger on apprentice or other upstart trying their parent’s fortunes at trading.  Being the forward type, he approached the three of them without a hint of embarrassment at interrupting a conversation mid flow.

“Good afternoon my friends, I am Jacques LeBold.  What, can I ask, are three young people such as yourselves doing in a place like this?”

Jose was about to answer when Jacques butted in, “Wait, no.  Let me guess!”

The three of them gave each other puzzled looks and a few eye rolls, though Jacques was so excited by his own invented game that he gave no notice to these uncomfortable looks.

“There doesn’t appear to be anything romantic going on here, so likely siblings.  Though the one girl doesn’t look anything like the others.  Foster siblings?”

It wasn’t a line of guessing that made Jose very comfortable.  He was already battling his own jealously and inaction regarding his romantic intentions with Emma.  He didn’t need strangers weighing in on the topic and making it even harder for him, so he was about to correct Jacques when his monologue switched course.

“That’s all rather besides the point though, isn’t it?  Even if you were foster siblings, what on Earth are you doing here?  Looking for employment?  No, no one hands out jobs here, which you would have found out quite quickly, so I don’t think that’s what it is.  Could you be starting up your own trading company?  Preposterous.  I simply won’t allow such a view to prevail.  No, you must be here by accident, that’s it.”

Jacques stopped talking, but none of them responded.  They were waiting for him to continue with his monologue and couldn’t be bothered to start talking knowing they would likely be interrupted.  He looked eagerly at them in the most unsavoury way as they contemplated whether it was safe to speak without interruption.

Finally, Emma spoke, “first, Sir, we are not step siblings.  This is my husband”

Jose’s heart leapt at the words and then quickly crashed back down as he realised it was a ploy to keep this unsavoury character from making any advances.  Either way, he liked the ring it had to it.

“Second,” Emma continued, “we are not here by accident.  We are looking for a specific trading company, but we can’t remember the name of the company or the trader we met.  We know what he looks like, so we thought if we hung around here long enough, we’d find him.”

“I see,” said Jacques with a hint of excitement, “what an excellent puzzle.  I think I am just the man to help you as I know everyone in this business.  Is there anything else you know?”

“Its a new company,” said Jose, “aspiring to prominence in South America.  There is definitely more than just the man we are looking for as he mentioned partners.  We believe also that they are based out of Le Havre.  Emma remembers what he looks like.”

She shot him a glance that asked why he said the last sentence in such a way before responding, “yes, he was slightly shorter than Jose here, must have been late 30s, early 40s, a slender build with dark hair.  Unfortunately nothing that I can point out that much distinguishes him from a typical Frenchman.”

“That could indeed describe many a trader that walks through these doors looking for insurance on their enterprises.  If you buy me a drink it will likely jog my memory.”

Jose rolled his eyes but obliged, buying a coffee and bringing it back to the area they were in.

“No, boy, not coffee!  I need stronger stuff.  Get me a glass of red wine!”

With another roll of the eyes, Jose obliged.  The funds they received from Gustavus were starting to run low, but he could still spring for some decent wine.

“Much better!” Jacques began, “now my memory will surely be jogged.”

No one really knew what to expect.  How could this Jacques pluck a name of thin air?

“We start with a problem.  There are several firms aspiring to prominence in South America.  It is, after all, very lucrative in terms of trading if you can get it right.  Likewise, your description of this man is not illuminating.”

“Exactly, we’re looking for a faceless needle in a stack of needles who all want to do the same thing,” an exasperated Jose pitches in.

“Yes indeed my boy.  However, you said one thing which may have got my memory working.  You said they were part of a new firm, yes?  And you have met this man?  Where did you meet?”

“It was on the journey over from London that we met.  This was a few weeks ago now.”

“Ah, now there is an interesting fact that is very useful!  Let me think, who has been to London recently?”

Jacques stood sipping at his wine as he counted animatedly on his fingers and muttered various names to himself.  Part way through his deliberations he finished his wine and motioned to Jose to get him another, to which he obliged.  It was endlessly frustrating to Emma and Noemi in particular as they were completely spectators in what could turn out to be absolutely nothing.  More than a wasted couple of hours at least, as they didn’t have any concept of how long Jacques could drag this out.

After a few moments of him racking his mind, Jacques put his hand up into the air and sank the most recent glass of red wine that Jose had brought over.  He was certainly not sober at this point, though he seemed a man who was, if nothing else, adept at drinking.  They all held out hope that his thoughts would lead them somewhere interesting.

They wandered by the bar, where Jacques instructed Jose to buy him another glass of red wine.  His fourth on their watch, but who knows how many he had before meeting them.  They may have been in a coffee shop, though you wouldn’t have known it from watching Jacques.  He lead them towards a book that was tucked away in another corner of the coffee shop.  It was not guarded in any way that they could see, though Jacques was making it out to be a very important book, or rather, ledger.

“This is a record of every ship that has been confirmed to be sunk, who owned the ship, what goods were onboard and who had insured it.”

“Ah,” said Jose, “That’s incredible.  Are these all ships travelling from France?”

“Indeed they are.  This coffee shop is a much smaller version of something back in London called Lloyd’s coffee shop.  Most of the trade through London is insured there.”

“So why have you brought us here?” Emma interjected into the frustratingly convivial conversation.

“Well, my dear, that is an excellent question,” Jacques laughed to himself as his words lolled off his tongue, “Everything you said made me think of a man who had recently be in London as he was searching for new vessels and trading partners, as well as financial backers.”

“Which has nothing to do with sunken ships,” Emma snapped.

“Patientence!  Just for that moment, I’ll need another glass of wine before we proceed.”

Jose begrudgingly marched back to the bar where the barmen had a glass waiting for him.  Clearly this was not the first time something of this nature had happened.  Vowing that it would be the last glass he bought as it was now starting to put a more serious dent in their funds, he took the glass, paid the barman and made his way back to the book, where Jacques stood stoically, though somewhat shakily, awaiting his drink in silence.  As soon as Jose gave him the glass, he was off again, though speaking directly to his drink patron.

“If my memory serves, which is normally does, I believe that the man you are after was in London, as I began, looking for investors and the like, though I can’t remember his name.”

Anger flushed into Noemi and Emma’s faces and they were ready to pounce when Jose said, “But?”

“But, I do recall that his firm had recently lost a ship.  It was the reason the one man was in London.  I couldn’t recall exactly the name of the company, but knew the name would be in here, as of course I recalled the name of the ship – The Lafitte.  So, if we just look down the list back a few months and then across…”

They all watched his fingers slowly work across the page until they reached the name of the firm of traders who had leased The Lafitte.  There is was in plain and simple lettering.  The name of the company that would most certainly set them on their way to complete their plan and ride off into the sunset – Compagnie de la Nouvelle Neustrie.

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