Masquerade

Chapter 3: What an Entrance!

by Myshawolf (myshawolf at yahoo.com)

General Disclaimer

P.S: JAKA Ray, I hope you like the sitch I set up with L & S. Comedy will be a little subtle in this fic. On with the show.

Chapter 3- Meeting of the Minds I

The papers the next morning recounted the events from the night before. They proclaimed with pride that their Phantom was back. A few tried to dredge up the last time a chandelier crashed in the Paris Opera House, only to be refuted by the fact that no one had been injured this time. The stage had been thankfully cleared at the time of the disaster.

The Phantom smiled ironically. It had been afraid that the public would side against it for pulling that little stunt. However, it was being praised for ending the worst performance Paris had ever seen of Faust. Well, the Phantom was happy to be of service. The Phantom folded up its paper as a lilac point Siamese cat jumped onto its lap. The Phantom chuckled as it scratched the catís ears.

"Well, Ayesha, how does one follow an act like that?" the Phantom mused.

The cat mewed softly as the Phantom continued to stroke her. The Phantom glanced at the clock on the mantle. It was 10:05; the singers would be practicing now. The Phantom smiled down at the cat.

"Shall we go and see the result of last nightís little adventure?" The Phantom asked. The cat mewed back in response. The Phantom stood up and went to go change. Ayesha was following close behind.

"Really? Monsieur Holmes, I can assure you that we donít need your help in this matter of the Phantom. Our own security force is handling this," a young woman stated firmly. "Our family has run this opera house for many years."

"Madame Firmin, I can assure you I am not here to harm your friend in any way," Holmes remarked gently, trying to assure the woman.

"Itís not just that. Our actors and crew will not deal well with this interference. You will have a difficult time getting them to cooperate," a young man stated quietly.

"Thank you for the concern, Monsieur Firmin," Lestrade smiled charmingly. "Weíll deal with things as they come."

"If you are going to run around this place looking for trouble, let me give you one piece of advice. When in the basement, keep your hands at the level of your eyes," Madame Firmin sighed.

"Also if you do meet up with The Phantom, be polite. He reacts well to kindness," Monsieur Firmin added.

"Thank you both for your time and advice," Holmes smirked as he stood up. Everyone else in the room stood up as well. Sherlock tipped his hat to them as he and Lestrade left the room. Once in the hallway, Lestrade turned to Sherlock.

"They certainly werenít much help." Lestrade huffed, "What do you think they meant by keep our hands at the level of our eyes?"

Sherlock thought about it before sighing, "Iím not sure, but I think the stage crew will know the answer to that. They should be still cleaning the stage area. I suggest we look there."

Lestrade agreed and they walked towards the stage area. Nadir stepped out of the shadows and glared after them. This wasnít good. He began to follow them when Madame Giry walked up.

"Nadir, Mademoiselle Calotte is threatening to quit the Opera." Giry smiled.

"Thatís not good news. The Count will try to pursue the Phantom more strongly," Nadir grumbled. "Try to convince her to stay."

"The Phantom can handle the Count."

"Yeah, he did once. Remember how splendidly that turned out," Nadir sneered. "Now I have to take care of some business. Madame Giry, please take care. There are ears and eyes everywhere now."

Josef Buquet smiled as he checked the rigging high above the stage. Below several workmen continued to clean up the shattered glass. He turned to tug on a suspicious rope, then felt someone at his side. Buquet smiled wider.

"Iím sorry, Buquet, for messing up your stage," the Phantom apologized.

"After seeing the look on that foolís face, itís worth it. You havenít played with my ropes yet, have you?" Buquet joked.

"No, Monsieur. I figure the chandelier was trouble enough."

"I hear the Count is calling for your blood over this."

"Iíll give him my blade instead."

"It seems the police have called in Sherlock Holmes for this."

"Really? Nadir mentioned something like that last night. Do you think he will help their investigation?"

"Who knows? I found out who was at the crypt the other night."

"Continue."

"According to The Underground, he has been searching for you for several weeks now. He is a famous criminal in New London."

"Stop stalling, Buquet. I want a name."

"Professor James Moriarty."

The Phantom grew silent as it gazed down towards the stage. Sherlock and Lestrade had just approached the workmen. The Phantom smiled as several of them gave them the cold shoulder. Loyalty was something it didnít have to worry about. It looked a little farther to see Nadir watching them intently for the shadows. He was getting better at that. It turned to Buquet.

"It seems I have become quite popular lately. Buquet, I must take leave of you."

"Ah, just as I was going to put you to work. Farewell, my child," Buquet smiled as the Phantom jumped into the ropes. Buquet looked down to see the workmen giving the detectives a hard time. He didnít mind it, except they were neglecting their work.

"Hey, you lazybones, ignore the pretty woman and get back to work! I want that chandelier cleared away by noon! We have a rehearsal tonight!" he shouted from his perch. Several men turned back to the job on hand. A few were being stubborn. Buquet growled loudly, "Move it! Or Iíll give you to Punjab Lasso!"

The few defiant ones paled and returned to their work. Buquet smiled; nothing like the Lasso to get them back to work. He looked towards the outsiders who were looking up at him. Buquet sighed. He should probably go down and make himself known. Nadirís stare hardened and Buquet reconsidered his position. Maybe they were better off not knowing.

After a few more hours, Lestrade and Holmes found themselves back in the lobby. They had no luck with interviewing anyone from the company. They were blown off or threatened in some vague fashion. The few that did talk to them did so in hushed tones. Lestrade noticed an Arab man following them. She wondered if Holmes did too.

"I think we hit a dead end with the company. No one wants to talk," Lestrade commented. "Where is Watson?"

"I asked him to sit in Box Five and scan it for any DNA. He should be coming in a moment," Sherlock answered as he tried to find the painting from last night. "Ah, there it is."

Lestrade looked at what Holmes was happy to find. She walked over with him, staring at a portrait of a beautiful woman. Her hair was chestnut brown and very curly. It was styled in a beautiful coiffure and tied with a black ribbon. She was standing by a chair and had a coy yet charming smile aimed at the viewer. Her dress was black and styled like a ballerina gown. Around her neck hung a simple chain with a gold ring on it. Her eyes, however, seemed sad. The brilliance of her blue eyes seemed dim, as if she carried a dark secret. One could see she was quite young. Lestrade wondered who she was.

"Ah, I see you have found her portrait," a deep voice joked from behind them. They recognized the voice from earlier in the rafters. Lestrade and Holmes turned to see a middle age man with a bandana wrapped around his balding head. He was dressed in a worn shirt and jeans. The man stopped in front of them.

"Do you know who she is?" Lestrade asked.

"Of course, anyone in Paris would know her. This is the famous diva Christine Daae-Noir. She sang for the Opera House in the 1890ís." The man smiled. "My name is Josef Buquet, the stage manager."

"Sherlock Holmes." Sherlock shook his hand.

"Inspector Beth Lestrade." Lestrade offered her hand. Buquet gripped it gently and kissed it softly.

"Un plaisir, beau Manquer," Buquet murmured as he released it, "Iím sorry for not coming down earlier and for my workersí behavior."

"We have seen a lot of it." Lestrade sighed.

"Perhaps you can assist us, Monsieur Buquet," Sherlock suggested.

"Alas, I cannot. If you want a warmer reception, I suggest that you meet with the Phantom first. He tends to open a few doors." Buquet smiled.

"Maybe you can...." Lestrade had started when she was interrupted by a shout. Buquet paled at the sound of the voice.

"Josef Buquet!" a voice shouted.

"Dieu m'aide," Buquet groaned before turning towards the approaching woman. Lestrade was reminded of a cornered criminal or husband. The woman walked up to Buquet. Buquet smiled as charmingly as he could. A smack was heard through the hall.

"That will teach you for what you did," the woman huffed.

"Mon Dieu, At least tell me what I did," he grumbled.

"Thatís for taping up one of the dressing rooms," the woman remarked.

Buquet broke into a bright smile. "Mademoiselle Calotteís room. I glued it, Madame Giry, not taped it."

Lestrade suppressed a laugh while Sherlock grinned. Giry wasnít pleased by this. She was fuming.

"I only just stopped her from quitting," Giry growled.

"Now why did you do a fool thing like that?" Buquet frowned.

"Because Nadir thinks, and I agree, that it will keep the Count off our backs."

"Well, I had help." Buquet grinned wistfully. "In fact, it was his idea. The Phantom comes up with some dozes."

"Well, you get back there and unglue it," Giry barked, "Iíll have a word with the Phantom about this."

"Like heíll listen." Buquet chuckled. "Until we meet again, Monsieur and Mademoiselle."

Giry gave them a dark look as she dragged Buquet away. Lestrade smiled to Sherlock, who smiled back. Watson tipped his hat to Mme. Giry as she and Buquet passed him. He bounded up to Holmes.

"Watson, where have you been?" Sherlock asked.

"I just spent the past hour talking with a most helpful young lady. She was very knowledgeable about the Opera House. Most polite," Watson stated.

"Really? Where did you meet her?" Lestrade asked. Anyone who was willing to help was someone to keep track of.

"Well, she found me. I was sitting in Box Five like you told me to when she walked in. She seemed surprised to see me. After I assured her that I meant no harm, she sat with me and we just talked. She was very nice to me; she seemed fascinated that I was a free-willed robot." Watson related, "She had a very impressive voice. When I commented on an aria from Faust, she told me that I need to hear it sung by someone with talent. I asked her to sing if she could; she sang it. I wonder why she didnít perform that night. She would have been a wonderful Marguerite."

"Did you get her name?" Lestrade asked.

"Um, no. She had to leave for practice before I could ask it," Watson sighed.

"What did she look like?" Lestrade pestered.

Watson looked at the painting and pointed to it, "Just like that, except her skin was a little tanner."

"I wonder what happened to her. She seems troubled in this painting," Sherlock wondered as he stared at Miss Daae. He turned and put on a bright smile, "I suggest we retreat for the evening. Obviously The Phantom doesnít see fit to show us any secrets today."

As the three left, a masked figure watched them from the shadows. It smiled widely. It gazed at them as they left. The figure stepped out the shadows and laughed.

"Oh, but I have, Monsieur Holmes. One more awaits you when you arrive at your hotel." It chuckled before blending back into the shadows.

"WHAT?!" Lestrade shouted when they returned to the hotel. The Manager flinched at her tone. He had the unfortunate job of informing her that her room had been evacuated due to a police operation. Her things had been placed in the other room that was booked under her name until she returned. Holmes paled but remained very quiet as Lestrade ranted at the poor manager.

"Iím sorry, Mademoiselle. It canít be helped. Perhaps, if you and the Monsieur double up until we can find another room," the manager squeaked.

Lestrade was about to start yelling when Holmes stopped her, "Come, Lestrade. The situation could be worse. Itís hardly his fault that we now are roommates."

Lestrade took a breath and sighed, "I guess. I want my room back as soon as they are done."

"Of course, Mademoiselle, of course." The manager smiled glad that the storm was over. He handed the extra key to the room to her. She snatched it away. The manager began to shake again. Holmes smiled mischievously as he led her away to their room.

That night, Lestrade grumbled as she got ready for bed. She could believe she was rooming with Holmes. Before she could stop it her heart did a small flip at the thought of sharing a room with Holmes. Lestrade scowled. He was her partner and friend. It would be extremely unprofessional to be anything else.

One canít be professional all the time, a small voice in her head commented.

Lestrade wondered briefly where that came from. She needed to stay professional now. They were tracking someone who could be very dangerous. She needed to stay on her toes. After giving herself that little pep talk, she walked out of the bathroom. And nearly ran back in.

Holmes was standing at the window, looking out at all of Paris. Lestrade could easily make out his profile as he regarded the bright city. He turned his blue-grey eyes towards her. Lestrade felt her knees go weak. Quickly she decided to break the mood.

"So whatís on the agenda tomorrow?" Lestrade asked.

"I was thinking of learning a little bit about our Phantom from the Operaís library. There must some clue as to who it is. Iím also intrigued as to why the Count hates him so much," Sherlock informed her.

"It seems to be mutual in this case," Watson spoke up from his seat in the corner. Lestrade nearly jumped. She had forgotten the robot was there.

"Well, nearly being killed will do that to a person. I can check out what the Parisian police will have on it." Lestrade suggested, "Surely the DNA scans of the bloodstained cloak will tell us something."

"I also think that we should pay a visit to the cemetery that Chief Inspector Leroux spoke of when we arrive."

"Whatever for, Holmes?"

"Eyes and brains. Moriarty was very interested in a crypt there. It may provide some clue to who is really behind the mask. But for now, we will need some rest. Tomorrow will be a long day." Sherlock yawned as he walked towards his bed. Lestrade followed his lead and called for the lights to turn off. Everyone settled down for the night.

Buquet confidently sat at the bar. It was a dingy place frequented by the worst of Paris. He couldnít believe Nadir had convinced him to play messenger. Not that Nadir was too happy about it either, but the Phantom wanted to know why everyone wanted him. Buquet took another sip of his drink. At least, he wasnít alone. Somewhere among the crowd was the Phantom, hidden well enough that no one would spot him. The Phantom wanted to be close enough in case Buquet required assistance. He finished his drink and signaled the droid behind the bar that he wanted another. Soon a body dropped in the seat next to him.

"Bon soir, Monsieur," Buquet remarked softly.

"I hear you can deliver a message to the Phantom of the Opera," the man asked.

Buquet considered his glass. "I guess so. I hear you can deliver a message to Professor Moriarty."

"It seems we both have a message to deliver," the man laughed.

"Ah. But mine will override yours." Buquet smiled gently, "The Phantom knows he wants to meet with him. Have the Professor come to Le Restaurant d'Harmonie on la Rue Scribe at about 8 oíclock. He will not need a disguise since the table will be in one of the separate dining meeting rooms. However, if he wants to wear one he can."

"Is that your message?" the man asked and continued at Buquet curt nod, "The Professor will want the Phantom to come unmasked as well."

"Iím sure the Phantom will agree to that term." Buquet chuckled quietly. "Is that agreed?"

"Yes."

"Good, now I must report back to him. If there is a change in your masterís plan, send a note to the Opera House," Buquet added as he stood from his chair. He didnít wait for the man to reply but walked out of the bar as quick as he could. The man glared at Buquetís retreating back. Then he sighed; his master wouldnít like the Phantomís terms.

Buquet walked quietly down the street. He seemed to be looking for someone. Soon a pair of footsteps joined him, walking alongside. Buquet didnít jump or act shocked. He was used to the Phantomís tricks by now.

"Did he agree?" the Phantom asked.

Buquet nodded, "At least his servant did. Only one condition, though. He wants you to come unmasked since you want him to."

"Interesting. Iíll give it some thought. Itíd be interesting to see his reaction to my appearance."

"Just donít be too reckless. He seem like he could be a deadly enemy."

"I will be careful. Now go home, Josef, before your wife worries."

Josef tipped his hat at the Phantom and hailed a cab. The Phantom smiled as it began to head home. It had plans to make.

On to Chapter 4!

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