Franchomme and the Bad News

I wasn’t the only actor enjoying my show. Everyone in the room was playing their own role in their own play. I wasn’t the only person in costume either. There was a small mustachioed man, already seated, dressed as a police officer. “I know better than to make assumptions” I thought to myself. Mr. Plankt wore a conservative business suit, but with a tie of such blazing magenta that it overshadowed any possible achievement of seriousness the suit may have hoped for with its dull greyness.

Mr. Plankt had been saying polite things, but now he was about to move to more serious matters. “Everything was grand here until just recently.” “Yes?” I prompted. “That’s why Lieutenant Franchomme is here.” “Good to meet you.” “The same.” “Are you friends, or maybe business partners?” “We met years ago, and are now on a first name basis. I would agree that we are now friends, wouldn’t you, Napo?” “Definitely” answered the Lieutenant. “However”, continued Plankt, “It is a serious matter that now concerns us, professional for you and Napo, although personal for me. To come to the point: I have received an extortion letter.” “Aha.”

Napo really was a genuine police officer, and my customer had been threatened if he did not pay the extortionist. How was I involved? A threat had been made to bring down one of my ships with Mr. Plankt aboard if a ransom was not paid.

Franchomme was speaking. “Mr. Xevzev.” “Yes?” “I also believe this is not the first such threat to one of your ships.” “Really?” “Yes. I think there might have been such a threat before your brother’s accident.”

Now, my show dissolved. I felt anger, sadness, confusion, and seriousness all at once. The waves of conflicting emotions passed over my face. I pulled my composure back, and forced myself back into my role. Captain. Cool. Clearheaded.

Liutenant Franchomme apologized for “the stress this must surely put on me”, and started telling his story. He struck me as shrewd, more than a little pompous, and possibly in possession of a dry wit.

“Here’s the part that doesn’t make sense.” “Yes?” “It’s would be very easy for Plankt here to just ignore the extortion and not travel by your -um- airship.” “Hhhm.” “So that means that the threat is also to you.” “I don’t get it.” “Who gets hurt if Plankt just starts traveling a bit more normally? I don’t mean to offend.” “No offense taken. I lose business.” “Right. Something doesn’t add up, because they’re extorting the wrong person. They could have just gone directly to you. Perhaps they tried to? That would make much more sense. It would be good to figure this all out before they make their next move. So … I would like to interview you rather thoroughly on this matter.”

He wanted to board my ship, so the two of us went, without Plankt, and then interview me he did. Thoroughly. Unfortunately I knew nothing of use, and felt a bit slow on the uptake too.

The Costume Plays a Part

Only when the last hour arrived, did I realize that my dress costume made a parody of a drum major’s parade outfit. The goal had been to make it look more cheerful than a naval uniform, while maintaining echos of a 19th century aesthetic. I had worried that it would look too military or too outdated, but avoiding those things gave me a marching band look. At least there were no feathers.

Second thoughts and discomfort snuck in slowly, and then flowed freely. “Balderdash” I said aloud with as much conviction as I could, and then continued the thought a bit more calmly “A show’s an act, the costume plays a part. Without it I’m just in a different costume playing a different character.”  Wazn the cat switched his tail while watching me.

I knew that if I felt uncomfortable, those around me would detect it, something would seem off, and my awkwardness would be genuine. On the other hand, if I felt natural, it would all look good and no one would question a thing. The costume was crisply pressed. I took off the jacket and hat, and lightly crumpled them. I did a no-doubt-very-humourous little dance to loosen up the pants, put it all back on, and reevaluated. The result was strangely effective. It really looked and felt more genuine. Wazn shifted his attention to the window.

The heat of late afternoon was too much for such heavy fabric, but it was only for a short while. We berthed.

Within a few minutes, while the crew handled everything with elegant expertise, I came down from the ship and was standing in front of the eccentric Mr. Plankt. All my customers are eccentric, of course. But then, the greeting that left his lips was the least expected he could have uttered, which was, no doubt, his intention. “Saluton! Kiel vi fartas?”

Where did he learn that, I wondered? How did he even know what our language was? Why would he care? Fortunately, while I was thinking these things, I reflexively answered him with the correct response and protocol. After that, he grinned broadly, switched to English, and invited me to follow him in. The crew continued their own show while I performed mine.

Soon we passed through large doors; I was treated as an honored guest. “I really like the beautiful ship you brought. We usually take Sailing Cloud.” Sailing Cloud is the official name for The Barge. “This one has style though. Is it available? Or do you just use it for company business? Your brother never mentioned it.” That last comment demanded slow consideration, but I answered the questions. “That is Silver Moonlight. It is one of the most beautiful ships in the world, and I chose to bring it precisely because I knew you would like it. The only drawback is that it is much smaller than Sailing Cloud, including the passenger quarters.”

It’s difficult to talk about one thing while you think about another. It can also be potentially embarrassing if you mix thoughts with words and say the wrong thing. Nonetheless it’s a useful skill, and although I’m not very expert at it, practice helps, and I make the habit of practicing at times when mistakes are mostly harmless. Over the next few minutes I practiced.

The Rummy Family

Some of the crew gamble incessantly and some intermittently, just as some abstain out of principle, and others simply have other interests, such as the guitarist. Another example of such a character who was on the airship for that voyage is Vyzby.

Vyzby is interesting to the point of incomprehensible and beyond. While the others are for the most point happy to play obscure games with extremely complex rules, she pushes this tendency to such an extreme that she mostly plays solitaire.

She eschews standard card decks for ones that she designs and makes herself (and the same for non-card games as well). That particular evening she was occupying a small table with a huge mound of what looked to be at least dozen decks of cards, although it turns out that each and every card was unique. Some of the cards contained only a simple large unadorned numeral, but others had glyphs and characters written in scripts some of which I could guess at, and others of which I could not.

“How do you play?” I asked. “It’s fun.” was the slightly orthogonal answer. “What’s that card?” I countered, but shouldn’t have because the answer was simply “seventy-three” which didn’t make sense to me. I watched in silence for a while hoping to understand through observation and the application of logic. There were four “draw” piles, three face-up, and one face-down. I couldn’t discern the pattern of when a card was drawn from which. There was a discard pile, and her “hand” seemed to be a large number of face-up cards frequently rearranged. Sometimes sets were clearly melded in sets of three, and placed on the side. After I watched for a while, I was informed that I probably wouldn’t figure out the rules until I could read the cards, at which point it would be “easy”. After that, the explanation started coming out, but it was intermixed with strategic notes which made it hard follow. I could tell by now that this game was related to the Rummy family and I had a starting point.

“I like how you call it the Rummy Family.” she responded to one of my question-observations “but if it’s a family, this is that cousin who suddenly moved to a distant country where he was an exchange student 20 years ago, because he finally realized that he feels more kinship with his host family there than his actual relations.” That’s typical for a conversation with Vyzby. “Look: here in the Chinese characters I only have the 7, 12, and 28. Plus, I have the 12 in Mayan numerals. So, I want to keep all of them, because there’s a lot of combinations that could work …”

At last, I decided to go because it was time for me to do some writing, but I still hadn’t figured out the game. I asked if Vyzby could spare the time later to teach me to “read the cards” properly. At that, she was clearly very pleased.