Musketeer Space Part 33: The Hotel Coquenard Deluxe Bathroom Experience

tapsIt’s Musketeer Day!

No I haven’t seen the first episode of the new BBC Musketeers series yet, and yes it’s driving me crazy because I have to look at Tumblr with one eye squinched closed to try to avoid spoilery stuff.

I have heard rumours that as well as having no hat, D’Artagnan is now also without shirt. You’re welcome.

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PREVIOUSLY ON MUSKETEER SPACE: Dana D’Artagnan came to Paris Satellite to become a Musketeer pilot and instead she has befriended three of them, and got herself wrapped up in palace intrigues and spy romances, so she’s getting pretty sick of it all. Since the attack on Gascon Station, the solar system is at war with the Sun-kissed. Before they ship out, there are outfits to chase and loose ends to tie up. Including Porthos’ love life…

NOW READ ON.

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This chapter is dedicated to new Patreon supporter Dorothea Salo. I look forward to fitting your spaceship into the narrative!

Chapter 33: The Hotel Coquenard Deluxe Bathroom Experience

Fancy restaurants in super fancy hotels, it turned out, were desperately uncomfortable for Dana. She did not want to be here at all, and the cute black cocktail dress was only making her squirm.

Dana was going to roast Athos in a pie for dropping her into this without warning, and without back up. He must have known she would hate it as much as he would. The bastard probably thought it was funny.

Aramis and Porthos were obviously both enjoying themselves amongst all the wealth and glamour. Dana was also going to roast them in the aforementioned pie.

“Captain Porthos, how lovely,” said a voice that managed somehow to be both chilly and welcoming. It was an impressive feat. An older woman in a designer suit bore down upon them with a smile that did not reach her eyes. “Always a pleasure to see the Royal Musketeers here at Hotel Coquenard.”

“Madame, it’s been too long,” Porthos replied graciously and they kissed each other’s cheeks as if they were the best of friends.

It was a little creepy.

“You remember Captain Aramis, and this is our friend, Arms-Sergeant D’Artagnan. My friends, this is Madame Coquenard, our host.”

Dana blinked several times before remembering that indeed, her new position came with a new rank. Nice.

“Delighted,” purred the evidently-not-delighted Madame Coquenard. “I shall send Remy out to discuss the menu with you, of course.”

“If it’s not too much trouble,” agreed Porthos with a gleam in her eye.

As the manager moved on to another table, Dana leaned in to her friends. “What the hell have you dragged me into here?”

“No idea what you’re talking about,” Porthos said, widening her eyes so much that it wouldn’t be a surprise if her long lashes got tangled in her ruby-red wig.

“It’s all going to be fine, and we get a nice meal out of it,” said Aramis in a calm voice, though it was obvious that her attention was elsewhere.

Dana followed her gaze and saw a familiar figure sitting at a table at the far end of the restaurant. Captain Tracy Dubois, with what looked like several elderly relatives, and not a husband in sight. Their eyes met and they shared a long, slow smile across the length of the room, as if they were the only ones there.

“Oh you have got to be kidding me,” Dana muttered.

She was going to kill Athos so hard. He wasn’t even worthy of a pie.

Chef Coquenard – who had to be the husband of the manager, surely – was a large, friendly-looking man who nevertheless approached their table as if he expected to be greeted by his very own personalised Death By Forks. He greeted all three of them, and managed to explain the more complex and artistic quirks of the menu in between a whispered argument with Porthos about why exactly he had failed to come to her aid back on Chantilly, while she was wounded and stuck for funds.

Other bullet points of the argument included the inappropriate nature of tonight’s little confrontation, under the eyes of Madame Coquenard who preferred to keep up the illusion that they were still married to each other, for business reasons. Yes, of course dinner was on the house, because Porthos was on the verge of causing the most spectacular Scene of Righteous Fury, and Chef Coquenard seemed to be of the opinion that he mostly deserved it.

Also, the beetroot foam was not to be missed.

It was the most awkward conversation that Dana had ever been part of, and she could have lived without being occasionally asked to weigh in with opinions about the preferred sauce to be smeared alongside sashimi escargot, and how she felt about vintages from the islands of Truth.

It really didn’t help that Aramis was so busy flirting with her girlfriend from across the restaurant that she did not participate in the debate about Paris Gateaux versus Creme of Honour.

“I feel a lot better now,” said Porthos as her lover returned to the kitchen to make a start on their appetisers. “It’s good to resolve relationship issues before they fester.”

“I’m so glad for you,” said Dana, viciously stabbing her bread roll.

When Madame Coquenard returned to personally serve their wine with polite smiles that made it pretty clear she disapproved thoroughly of Porthos but was never going to publicly admit it, Dana decided she needed a break and made for the ladies room as fast as she could in stupid frock and stupid heels.

As she swung around the grand staircase, she saw a table concealed in a far alcove, and almost stopped breathing for a moment as she recognised one of the occupants.

Milord De Winter. How was it that he kept crossing her path? Paris Satellite was a big place. Perhaps the universe was trying to tell her something – like that she was running out of time if she wanted to rescue Conrad Su before she was sent off to war.

She crept a little closer, keeping an ornamental shrub in a gilt-lined pot between herself and Milord. Perhaps she might overhear something of use.

As she moved in, however, Dana realised that she recognised his dinner companion too, though she had not seen her this close before. Milord had finally won the attention of the Marquise de Wardes, that political candidate from Valour that had so captivated his attention back on the train, and beyond.
Well, now she was practically obliged to eavesdrop on their conversation.

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The Marquise De Wardes was as effortlessly beautiful in person as in all the newscasts. She was a similar height, colour and build to Dana herself – and her deep brown shoulders were surprisingly muscular for a woman who was famous as a fashion plate, not a kickboxer.

Speaking of her fashion choices, she was all in silver for the fancy restaurant; poured into a sheath dress that looked like it had been welded from sheet metal. Her mid-length hair fell in black twists with silver beads that must have taken hours to set in place.

Milord De Winter had gone to some trouble as well. His suit was grey, with a shirt embroidered with silver threads. Had he called ahead to make sure their outfits matched? That was disturbing. But if he really wanted to match colour schemes with the Marquise, why wasn’t he wearing his silver secret agent hair?

Dana shifted closer, but couldn’t hear exactly what they were saying to each other. The mood had shifted from politely flirtatious to something a little more tense – Milord spoke too fast, leaning in as if desperate to convince the Marquise of something. She in turn tilted her whole body back, as if to make extra space between them.

Finally, the Marquise de Wardes stood, and spoke loud enough that Dana could hear her from her hiding spot. “Don’t think I’m not grateful for your interest, Milord De Winter, but I have so many political advisors already. I’m not sure you are making as strong a case as you think you are.”

“Please, give me a little longer to convince you,” pressed Milord. “And do accept the token of my professional esteem.” He pushed a small, pretty object at her. It looked like a retro powder compact, decorated with a gleaming mother-of-pearl surface.

The Marquise sighed, but accepted the gift. “Excuse me for a moment, I need a spot of fresh air,” she said coldly. She swept off in the direction of the bathroom with a haughty flick of her head. De Winter, left behind, looked like the popular boy in school receiving his first ever rejection to a dance, and not sure how to handle it.

Dana hesitated for a moment before realising that as a woman, she could follow the Marquise without raising anyone’s suspicion. Anyone except Aramis and Porthos, of course, who gave her confused looks as she moved past their table and kept going, on a lap of the restaurant.

The ladies bathroom was a gleaming treasure. It was like stepping inside a jewellery cabinet, or possibly a hover-chandelier. Everything sparkled and gleamed.

There was no hiding in here – reflective surfaces were in abundance, and Dana found her face staring back at her from a dozen different angles.

At the enormous central mirror, the Marquise de Wardes touched up her makeup, swiping lip gloss across her mouth and turning a dial on her wrist to adjust the colour. “Honestly,” she sighed, meeting Dana’s eyes as if they were peers. “I think I preferred it when men were after me for my looks rather than my political value.”

It occurred to Dana that the practiced charms of her alter ego Lexi Charlemagne might be of more use here than her own usual brand of tactless stomping. “I saw your fellow out there as you walked away,” she said lightly, joining the Marquise at the mirror. “If you think he’s not interested how you look, you really haven’t been paying attention. He couldn’t take his eyes off you.”

The Marquise made an unimpressed huffing sound. “You say that, my dear, but believe me, that one’s only thinking about my potential career in public office – and what he can get out of an alliance with me. He can turn on the charm when he wants to, but everything beneath the surface is cold as ice.”

Dana gave a half shrug and readjusted her neckline, since she had no lipstick or more than half a centimetre of hair to primp. “I know what I saw, that’s all.”

The Marquise gave her a thoughtful look, as if she was trying to work Dana out. “What a darling gown you’re wearing,” she said after a moment. “I am sure I saw the Duchess of Buckingham wearing one like it only last month.”

“She’s a trendsetter, all right,” Dana said with a secret smile. If she was going to keep up this espionage thing, she might have to invest in gowns that weren’t Buck’s hand-me-downs and therefore fit correctly. What a horrendous thought.

“Well, I hope you’re having a better evening that I am,” said the Marquise, making for the door.
Dana spotted the compact clamshell, where the Marquise had abandoned it near the sink. “You forgot this.”

“Oh, keep it,” said the darling of the fashion broadcasts with an airy wave. “And if you hear that handsome, silver-tongued date of mine ask anyone if they’ve seen me, please don’t volunteer that I slipped out through the kitchens to avoid him.”

As the bathroom door swung closed behind her, Dana reached down and picked up the compact clamshell. It was unlikely that Milord would have put any evidence of Conrad Su’s latest kidnapping on this thing before passing it over to the Marquise de Wardes as a gift, but she could not afford to discard any possible clue.

It occurred to her a moment later that if the Marquise de Wardes could escape this bloody hotel through the kitchens, then Dana could do exactly the same thing. She felt a brief prick of guilt about ditching Aramis and Porthos, but the thought of sitting through more of that ridiculous dinner performance made the guilt instantly vanish.

She put the clamshell in the tiny evening bag that Aramis had pressed on her because the stupid dress she was wearing was apparently too fancy to include pockets, and made a break for it.

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The hotel didn’t have a back entrance so much as a giant blank wall, but Dana still managed to double back and leave the hotel by the main lobby without being spotted by either her friends or Milord De Winter.

That didn’t mean that she made it out scot free. Only a few steps from the hotel entrance, a fiercely strong pair of hands grabbed her around the shoulders and dragged her into the alleyway around the side.

Dana was prepared to fight, her elbows and fists tense for action, but when she saw her assailant, she hesitated for a moment.

“Hello, Lexie,” said the piercing and no-longer-quite-as-friendly voice of Bianca “Bee” de Winter, the Countess of Clarick. “How perfectly lovely to see you again.” From her tone, she meant anything but.

“Hello, Bee,” said Dana warily.

“Or should I call you Miss D’Artagnan?” her former travelling companion went on, eyes flashing with anger.

Cover blown, then. Well, it wasn’t before time. Dana wrenched away from Bee’s grip, straightening her dress to give herself a moment to collect her thoughts. “It wasn’t personal, Bee,” she said calmly. “I was working. With a brother like yours, you should understand what that means.”

Bee de Winter wore loose practice clothes, as if she had come here straight from a yoga class – or fencing training, Dana considered, noting the sheathed sword that hung from Bee’s hip, and the folded pair of gloves tucked into her belt. Too late, she remembered that there was more to this New Aristocrat than gossip and fashion advice. Bee had told her all about the sports and games that she and her friends were into – shooting and fencing among others.

She looked positively lethal here in the alleyway, a sword on one hip and what had to be an arc-ray on the other. Dana was starting to think she wasn’t the only one who had been playing a role on that train.

“Nothing personal,” said Bee with a skeptical lift of her eyebrow. “And next you’re going to insist that you’re not stalking my brother-in-law, is that right?”

Dana almost spluttered with laughter at that. Her, stalking Milord, when it was so much more likely to be the other way around. “Are you serious right now?”

“Vaniel has a lot of enemies,” Bee said, her tone making it clear that she saw no humour in this situation. “I was really hoping you weren’t one of them.”

Dana saw red, the old familiar buzz of anger burning through her. “I serve the Crown,” she snapped, shoving Bee further away from her. “If that makes me your brother-in-law’s enemy, that’s his choice, not mine, and it’s a stupid bloody choice. I wasn’t even here because of him tonight. My stupid friends brought me for a ridiculously embarrassing dinner, and I’m starving, so -”

“What is going on here?” broke in a sharp, beautiful voice.

Bee and Dana hesitated, their hands hovering in the act of either shoving each other away further, or hauling each other in for a proper fight. Dana had not yet decided which impulse she was going to go with.

Milord De Winter stood at the mouth of the alley in his silver suit and brown hair, either exasperated or amused. Possibly both.

“Vaniel, darling,” said Bee without taking her eyes off Dana. “Did you know that our little friend from the train was actually a Musketeer spy called D’Artagnan?”

Milord went very still. “No, I did not know that,” he said calmly. “How very enterprising of her.”

“What are you going to do about it?” Bee demanded.

“Well, I’m not going to start a scuffle outside a five star hotel, sweetness. I’ll see you back at the ship later. Unless you’d rather walk with me now?”

Bee looked confused. “I’m meeting friends,” she said.

“Ah, well. I will bid you good night then, Bee. Good night, Dana.”

“Good night, Vaniel,” said Dana politely, since they were apparently on first name terms now, and if she had learned one thing about hanging out with Athos and the others, it was that politeness was a useful tool to keep people off balance.

When he was gone, it was just Dana and Bee, staring awkwardly at each other.

“So what?” Dana said impatiently after a moment. “Are we going to fight, or are we going to make out against the wall for a while? Or even better, we could go back to reading trashy magazines and painting each other’s nails, because that was a super good time.”

“My family is everything to me,” Bee hissed. “I don’t know what you’re up to, but I’m going to make sure you stay well away from us.”

“Good luck with that,” Dana snapped back. “I’ve been trying to avoid you all week but here I am getting hauled back in.”

Bee’s eyes went very dark for a moment, and then she pulled both of the padded gloves out of her belt and slapped Dana in the face.

It kind of hurt, but Dana barely noticed because she was recovering from the fact that she had actually been hit with a pair gloves, like something out of a vid drama. “Are you challenging me to a duel, or do you just like hitting people with clothing?”

“Name the place and time,” Bee said in a steady, angry voice.

Dana opened her mouth, but was interrupted by a chorus of aristocratic voices.

“Bee, honey, there you are!”

“Yo, Clarick!”

Two men and a woman, all athletic and wearing the same kind of designer sports gear as Bee, crowded into the mouth of the alley.

“We only have the practice rooms till 2200, what’s going on with you?”

“I was busy,” Bee said between gritted teeth.

Dana did not like that she would now have to shove her way past three more people in order to get out of this damned alley. She hated it when there wasn’t a clear exit. “0600 behind the Luxembourg,” she said, keeping her gaze steady on Bee. “If you’re so keen to address your issues with me.”

“Done,” snapped Bee.

“Hang on,” said one of her friends. He was at least a head taller than Dana and his shoulders were crazy wide like he had been built out of lamb shanks and robot parts. His meaty hand slammed down on Dana’s shoulder and she flinched beneath him. “A duel, Clarick? And you’re leaving us out of it?”

“Take your hand off my shoulder,” said Dana, very calmly.

The idiot ignored her, leaning more heavily on Dana as he pressed his body towards Bee. “Seriously, you know it’s been on our bucket list since we arrived here. Paris isn’t Paris without an illegal duel under our belt…”

“Seriously, move your hand right now,” breathed Dana. “Or I’m going to make you move it.”

“Doncaster,” Bee said, sounding exhausted and pissed off. “If you can’t find your own damned duel, I don’t see why I should share mine -”

Dana stepped aside from the enormous New Aristocrat who had been using her as furniture, swung around neatly and punched him in the face. Pain shot through her hand all the way up to her elbow, but it was worth it.

“0600 tomorrow, behind the Luxembourg, everyone’s welcome,” she grated out, glaring at the other two New Aristocrats until they stepped quickly aside to let her out of the alley. “I have three friends, you have three friends, let’s have a party.”

Dana glanced over her shoulder at Bee de Winter, her hand aching. One more cheap shot before she made her exit. “For future reference, if you really want to fight duels over your brother-in-law’s honour, better check he has some first.”

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You have been reading Musketeer Space, by Tansy Rayner Roberts. Tune in next week for another chapter! Please comment, share and link. Musketeer Space is free to read, but if you’d like to support the project for as little as $1 per month, please visit my Patreon page. Pledges can earn rewards such as ebooks, extra content, dedications and the naming of spaceships. Milestones already unlocked include the Musketeer Media Monday posts, the Robotech Rewatch posts, and a special Yuletide prequel story to be released in December. My next funding milestone ($300 a month) will unlock ART.

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