Since last we saw, then, much geography had slid by underneath the spinning awning of the da Vinci helicopter. And so it began again. Another day, another dawn. Arthur squinted to avoid the first glares of the rising sun poking above the clouds. He leant back further into his seat underneath the rotating parasol spiral above the 'copter to be in the shade.
'How's breakfast?' he called to X.
X looked up with a satisfied grin and a full mouth and chomped into another baguette stuffed with cheese. 'Mmmppf m hmmptf,' he said.
'I see,' said Arthur. 'Needs mustard. Hmmmm.' A break in the clouds revealed a small town nestled in the foothills of the Alps. 'I've a idea... strap in.'
'Stwpf im?' X mumbled, demolishing the last of the crusty bit, 'wot stwapf?'
Then the helicopter lost several hundred feet directly over Dijon and began an inelegant decent, aiming more or less for the topmost turret in the castle by the river, acoustically accompanied by X emitting a high-pitched scream.
At the loading bay, Sreka put his finger to his lips and went 'Shhh'. The young dock worker he held by the throat, up off the floor against some packing crates, croaked something affirmative. Behind him, Vandeveer, Von Trapp and Mary led the captive Anna up a loading ramp and into the loading bay of the ship, amongst countless suitcases. From outside issued the sound of a scream and a splash and Sreka followed them inside. From there, they walked in a regal procession through a door and into the engine room. Vents of steam occasionally escaped from pipes and their footfalls clattered loudly on the metal walkways.
'There will be empty rooms,' Mary said confidently, turning to face the group. 'This ship is sailing to Cairo to collect a full manifest of passengers; however, those that remain are few and we will be safe. Sreka, you take the girl.'
'Da I will' — but he was suddenly cut off by Vandeveer.
'I'll go with Sreka,' Vandeveer announced, and set off to follow the Russian.
'And why is that?' Mary asked cooly.
'To keep an eye on her. She is an asset — if those agents ever find us...'
'How could they — they have no idea where we are — and Sreka can look after the girl,' she added.
'Then I will watch over Sreka. C'mon, miss,' Vandeveer said, taking Anna by the crook of the elbow and leading her up the stairs out of the engine room. Sreka turned to look at Mary and then, appearing to make a decision, followed Vandeveer up some stairs that were marked by a sign saying 'passenger cabins'.
Mary watched him leave and sought out von Trapp. Taking him to one side she said in a sotto voce whisper, 'Reto Vandeveer is scheming.'
'Are you certain?' von Trapp asked with a wicked smile.
'Let's not be hasty. He believes himself vital to our cause, when nothing is further from the truth. We needed him to arrange the raid of Pffeingstohler — but since the diamond was not there, his criminality is now bent not on finding the Turqoise Moon but on screwing us over! You know he sent his bodyguard Slepp with Daltmooreby, don't you?'
'I was driving the truck,' von Trapp snarled. 'I'd wondered what became of the assassin.'
'Andrei told me,' Mary said to clarify matters. Von Trapp cracked his knuckles. 'Don't harm him, Friedrich. Not yet. But keep him close. He's up to something; I can feel it in my waters!'
X skidded around a corner on a cobbled street, looking slightly damp, and legged it up the hill as if persued by an angry mob. The angry mob appeared a few moments later.
These and other French expletives rang out again and again. X put some extra effort into running and caught up with Arthur.
'That was nicely done back there,' Arthur huffed.
'Well, how was I to know they were going to react like that?' X asked, picking a grape out of his hair.
'Yes, but did you have to embarrass that poor woman?'
'Embarrass her?' X said, sounding mortally overlooked.
'Yes, but we're never ever going to come back here — she'll be the talk of the town for years given her... status.' Arthur chewed over the last word in that sentence.
'Well, yes, I know now she is the mayor's daughter. But besides, I didn't grab her... her... y'know.... and how was I supposed to know it was loose?'
A missile thrown from the mob exploded high on a windowsill above them, showering a yellowy gloopy mixture in many directions at once.
'It's not normal for prosthetic limbs to just suddenly unclamp at the back, though, is it?' X pleaded defensively.
'No. I wonder why that one chose to go right then and there?' Arthur scolded.
'I was being ingratiating,' X rationalised. shaking his hand vigorously to demonstrate. 'You know, it's funny. I thought she felt a little cool and clammy to the touch.' X stared ahead mystified as he recalled the sequence of events that very shortly wuuld result in either a daring escape or the first public lynching in the town for over 100 years.
'It was a great honour to be invited up to "Le Vat Grande",' Arthur reminisced over the day's events. 'Good job, really — it being so tall and all — you needed the height what with that impressive somersault your performed when you fell backwards into the grape trough, that look of horror frozen onto your face,' he chuckled as they ran hard against the cobbled stone.
'Well, you try keeping your balance under those circumstances!'
'A whole harvest crop contaminated, didn't they say?'
'Something like that,' X admitted sulkly.
'Not since the plague of grape weevils in 1857, I'm sure I heard someone mention.'
'Oh shut up,' X grimaced.
'It was a beautiful somersault, though. Grace, form, poise...'
'I said shut up,' X grumbled irritably.
'Still, no "arm" done, eh?
'You'll live to regret that pun,' X complained.
The pair of Agents rounded another corner and headed towards the hill where they had parked the helicopter that same morning. Sfret peered out of his basket and saw the two agents tearing up the road with what appeared to be the entire population of Dijon pressing hard on their heels shouting obscenties and, as was obligatory, waving pitchforks. He hid back in the basket again.
Arthur was running so fast he nearly collided with their means of escape. He leapt into the pilot's seat and began to peddle furiously. X flew onto the back of the 'copter just as it began to lift up off the ground. He sat with his head in his hands as they ascended, looking at the mob gathering on top of the hill below, a few jars of the legendary condiment1 arced in front of him just out of reach.
'We still didn't get any mustard,' he said to Arthur miserably.
'Oh, come off it!' Arthur said, feigning amazement. 'We'll find some eventually.'
Arthur pressed the paddles forward and the rotating canopy above them tilted forward and the helicopter flew out towards the sea.