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Haute Cuisine (IC)

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2nd June

At "aliments avenir" restaurant

Rene de Saens strolled down the avenue to the new French restaurant deliberately slowly. Riverside was full of young people, too young for him, but it was also artistic and bohemian. And he could complain about his aching hips with gay abandon. He liked it.

"Aliments avenir" was new, but had already got a great reputation for top class French cuisine on a budget, in a quaint little side street full of character inside and out. Rene had enough cash to live comfortably and independently, and he was very keen to try it out.

The restaurant was, of course packed, and he had to beg and whine about several made up ailments before they whipped up a tiny side table and seated him buy it...

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A tall and very lean man came through the door shortly after the aging artist had manged to secure his seat. He wore a battered, immensely tough-looking suit of beige coveralls that looked like he had taken a baseball bat to them. He looked swiftly about the crowded restaurant, checking for an unoccupied table in the crush of bodies, and saw the one with what looked like the only unoccupied seat in the place. He set of for it nimbly, moving heron-like through the jostling lot with practiced ease. While making his way to the table, almost stopped short: Don Driogana, most powerful mob boss in the city, was sitting in the place. It took all of his self-control to not stop and stare, which was fortunate, as the lean man then saw that Lady Tarot was seated next to the massive mobster, not to mention the ill-disguised bodyguards who had arranged themselves around their employer, standing out by the surly demeanor and constant alertness. Suppressing a shudder as he moved past, the narrow youth slid neatly past a waitress carrying a tray to the Don and Tarot, and landed in the seat across from old man with the stylish beret. Smiling pleasantly at him, he offered his hand, saying "Good day to you sir, my name is Marceau Suvou. Is anyone expected at this seat? If so, I shall happily vacate it, and if not, I would be honored to make your acquaintance."

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Rene eyed the man up and down. He scowled.

But not that hard.

The man was young, but Rene noticed he was polite. And far more importantly, he detected a French accent.

"Oui, oui" he replied "Ze restaurant is packed, as you can see. Its reputation is spreading so fast, ze food is quite excellent I am told, and ze wine list is not bad..." he added, passing the list of rather inexpensive but good wines. "I had to beg to get a seat. My hips are playing up terribly. I am just a feeble old man, you see.."

He gazed around the crammed restaurant. You could barely swing a cat in there.

"A bit packed, but ze place has some charm, non?"

He held out his hand. "I am Rene, pleased to meet you, young man" he started, before continuing in French "

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Marceau relaxed into the hard wood chair when it turned out he wouldn't have to skip out next moment. He had always enjoyed being around people older than he, which on reflection probably stemmed from doing so for most of his life. Shaking his hand enthusiastically, Marceau answered cheerfully in his best French "

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"I shall start with ze onion soup, followed by ze Chicken Liver" said Rene, speaking to the young and rather pretty waitress that had come to take their order. He was tempted to speak to her in French, but he could tell she was all American.

"And to drink... ze Chateaux Moncrief, I think.." he added, handing back the wine list. "If my friend here does not object" he said nodding to Marceau. The young man was exceptionally polite and rather charming. And he was a Frenchman.

"Put it all together, I'll pay" he added. He had enough money to be generous with it, especially as he was not particularly flamboyant in his lifestyle.

Turning back to Marceau he raised an eyebrow "" he finished with a broad smile.

The wine arrived, and Rene tasted it. Finding it to his satisfaction, he raised a glass to Marceau. "To France!" he toasted, and took a generous mouthful, swishing it around his palate and inhaling deeply.

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Marceau, when Rene had glanced over to check if he objected to the choice of wine, indicated by a quick movement that he didn't. He didn't drink wine very much as it was, so he saw little reason to turn down a new taste. Rene's declaration of his intent to pay brought considerable relief to the younger man: while he had recently discovered a couple hundred dollars hidden behind a wall in a part of the office complex he worked at, he knew such money wouldn't last long.

"<Monsieur de Saens, I have no compunction against receiving generosity, I thank you greatly for your willingness to pay. Consider me in your debt>" he said with sincerity, "<From Paris? Alas! I have not yet seen that city, though not from lack of desire, but rather from lack of time. I have heard much of its beauties, however. I agree with your readily, sir. The world has its wonders, yet the beauty of our home is like no other>" he raised his glass along with Rene's. "<To France!>"

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Rene put down his glass and closed his eyes, savouring the flavours.

"" muttered Rene at the wine. ""

He passed Marceau the menu "" he added with a smile.

""

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After scanning the menu for a sparse few seconds, Marceau smiled politely to the waitress and placed his order: "I'll have a La frisee and a cassoulet. On the side, I'd like a Garbure soup" he placed the menu back where it had come from. Turning to Rene, he explained "<Well, Monsieur de Saens, I came to this city two years ago, actually. I had heard that this place was perfect for honing one's skills in most areas of life, and also that the job market here was good. There wasn't much I could do back in Aude, and I had no ties keeping me there, so I left. Keep the family home kept clean and in good repair though, it's a good house, and I'd love to live there in peace when I grow older>"

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"" replied Rene. "" he added, clinking glasses again and downing another genrous mouthful of the rather good wine.

The starter was served, and Rene tucked a napkin into his neck, and proceeded to slurp his soup, making various encouraging noises about its quality. The restaurant was getting more and more packed, and more and more noisy.

"" he sighed.

"

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"<With will, Rene!>" came the chipper response. The starter gave Marceau ample excuse to focus on the things he should avoid mentioning, no reason to spoil the pleasant scene with his past troubles. At the mention of his home in Aude, Marceau gave a slight start, hurriedly saying "<Oh, it's not really picturesque or anything, a solid home, well-built, but boring beyond belief if you don't have any personal attachment to it. As for what I've done here? Well, I'll be blunt, Rene: I'm a janitor. I work at an office complex which houses a bunch of accounting offices and can get incredibly dirty in a staggeringly short amount of time. Takes about twenty of us working nearly constantly to keep it tidy and inline with the building code>" he laughed openly at that.

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Rene finished off the rest of his soup, and helped himself to a chunk of bread an another sip of wine.

"" he looked slightly angry for a moment and his brow furrowed. He still remembered fighting in the French revolution - and had a fiery passion for such things as liberty and equality. Capitalism, for him, was only a few short steps away from aristocratic tyranny.

"" he raised his glass again. "" he roared, attracting a few glances from nearby tables.

It was perhaps fortunate that the main course arrived, and thus distracted his passion with his palate.

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Marceau smiled at Rene's enthusiasm "<Down with plutocracies indeed, Rene! Though,>" he added jokingly "<you'll have to sell a mountain of paintings to keep yourself well-payed when they go!>". He toasted the old man and set to work eagerly on his cassoulet. After a few bites he looked up, a sudden look of unease on his face "<By the way, did you see Don Driogana, near that table with the lilies? Don't look, please, no need to catch his eye by mistake>" he flicked his eyes in the direction the immense Don was sitting, leaning against the back of his chair as he did so.

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Rene didn't move his head at all, but looked up at Marceau.

""

His eyes did not move, but his brow furrowed slightly. "" he continued, although he was clearly looking in the wrong direction. ""

He took another mouthful of Liver, and slowly masticated, enjoying the flavours. "

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"<No, no trouble with him->" Marceau frowned, obviously in careful thought "<Not yet, would be more appropriate. I live in the Fens, a rather impoverished area of this city. That Ape, as call him, is of Italian blood, I dare say, but that is the only Italian thing I know of him. He is, I think the most powerful man in organized crime in this entire city, since Augustus Roman retired in the '90's. His thugs and legbreakers often come into my part of town. For that, and his open attempts to kill the costumed champions in this city, I plan to make as much trouble for him as I can.>" He scowled for a moment, but it passed almost immediately "<But that is both a dull and unpleasant subject, so let's speak of something else. What sort of paintings do you do, Rene?>" he looked with great attention at the older man, taking a small forkfull ofcassoulet into his mouth as he did.

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"<No, no trouble with him->" Marceau frowned, obviously in careful thought "<Not yet, would be more appropriate. I live in the Fens, a rather impoverished area of this city. That Ape, as call him, is of Italian blood, I dare say, but that is the only Italian thing I know of him. He is, I think the most powerful man in organized crime in this entire city, since Augustus Roman retired in the '90's. His thugs and legbreakers often come into my part of town. For that, and his open attempts to kill the costumed champions in this city, I plan to make as much trouble for him as I can.>"

"" nodded Rene as Marceau explained his knowledge of the Don. "" he empathised, gently patting Marceau on the forearm. ""

"<But that is both a dull and unpleasant subject, so let's speak of something else. What sort of paintings do you do, Rene?>"

"" Rene answered "" he took another sip of wine.

"

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Rene's admonishment brought a flicker of the sort of disgruntlement he was probably used to into Marceau's eyes, but he shrugged off his instinctual urge to try and argue. After all, it would be both rude and wrong-headed to ignore advice so earnestly given. Glancing over the heads of the diners, he checked carefully the space between Lady Tarot's hair and a picture of a beautiful grassy hill. "<I would be glad to see your art, Rene. If I have the money I shall even buy it! If my eyes do not deceive me, that lady is none other than Lady Tarot, right-hand of the Don. I have heard that she has a skill for divination, but only from rumors that I place little stock in. What I am sure is that she has a good ear for plots against the Don. He's survived and avoided dozens of assassination attempts in the past years thanks to her. I think she may be a relative of a friend, but I am not sure>" he shrugged and sipped at his wine, savoring the wonderful taste.

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"Hmmm" pondered Rene stroking his neat grey beard "

He was momentarily lost in thought until the pretty young waitress came over to clear the main course away. Rene nodded at her offer of desert menu.

"" he said, absent mindedly slipping into French. To his surprise, the waitress nodded - clearly she knew enough French to get buy in the job, anyway.

"" he continued to Marceau "<...there is something about you that begs me to paint you. Allow me to give you a portrait one day. Free of charge. As long as you promise to treasure it, of course!>" smiled Rene. He liked the young man. And he liked to paint people he liked.

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Rene's offer to paint him came upon Marceau quite unawares. For what in hindsight he cringed at as an embarrassingly long time, he stared at the old painter with a stunned expression. When he found his voice, he couldn't even begin to keep the excitement out of it "<Rene, I swear upon all permissible that I shall treasure and cherish such a gift up to and including my dying moment. If you happen to have the time...>" he dug out a small piece of paper and a stubby pencil, and wrote a phone number on it. Passing it over to Rene's side of the table, he concluded "<...please call this number. Only I answer it, so you're certain to contact me that way>".

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"" replied Rene, stuffing the paper into his jacket and studying the desert menu.

"" he mumbled. "" he studied the desert wines but nothing really caugh his eye. "" he requested. ""

He took another sup of wine, the bottle now near the end. He felt slightly intoxicated and decided to abstain from any further alcohol. He probably drank a little too much wine for his age anyway, but only quality produce and rarely to excess. He found the hangovers had become virtually intolerable after the age of a hundred.

He waited for Marceau to order whilst dividing the last of the bottle between them.

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"<An eclair, please!>" came the eager response,"<With another black coffee for me>" when the waitress had left he turned to Rene, having recalled something he thought would make for good conversation."<Rene, you seemed pretty blasé when I mentioned that Lady Tarot might be a diviner. Are you acquainted with fraud magicians? Enough to see through one at a glance?>" he didn't recall that it was much more likely that the old man was simply blasé by nature, rather than it being a sign of familiarity with the subject.

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Rene Shrugged casually.

He didnt exactly conceal his status as a magician. It was more that he down played his abilities to the point where concensus was he as either a minor (albeit fortunate) dabbler, or possibly a complete charlatan. He had found this was the best policy for him. It meant that his enemies tended to underestimate him. Complete secrecy had never worked out.

"" he replied "". Blase was indeed a good description of his manner ""

He found himself reaching for the wine bottle, but realised it was empty. He reflected that he had had an excellent meal, in excellent company.

"" he said, in a slightly softer voice, not quite making eye contact with Marceau but watching him nonetheless, "" he tapped his nose is a friendly slightly conspiratorial way.

"

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Marceau listened with care, nodding when Rene said that magic existd no matter whether or not you wanted it to. He was well aware of the origin of his own gifts, and had held for the last several years the notion that significantly more of the threats facing the powered populace were magical than was suspected. Unlike some, he thought ruefully, he had never experienced that feeling of elation upon first discovering his powers that so many magic-users had, being practically born with them. He wondersed vaguely if he should ask a true mage what it had felt like to wish for something and have it happen beyond hope.

Much more interesting, however, was speculation as to the presence of Lady Tarot and the Don. "<Again, I am hardly an expert on criminal matters, but perhaps the Don and his compatriots are here to intimidate the owner of the restaurant, or the owner is doing business with the Don>" a flicker of a glance followed his words. "<You have, I dare say, more experience with gauging people's motives than I, Rene. Do you think those two are waiting for someone?>". He relaxed against his chair, giving the room a once-over to see if, by some miracle, the place was getting more settled.

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"" scowled Rene, as he took the Creme Brule and Coffee of the waitress.

""

He stole a glance at the Don.

""

He took a spoonful of his Creme Brule and sip of his coffee and frowned a little.

"" he mumbled...

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Marceau took his dessert gladly from the waitress's tray, biting into his eclair with relish, having not tasted one since 2005. Chasing it down with a sip of coffee, he nodded in earnest agreement at Rene's grim diatribe. At the mention of something being "off" with the coffee, Marceau looked puzzled and took another, slightly longer sip of his. Unfortunately, he hadn't had coffee in the last two years at least, and thus didn't notice the difference in the slightest, never having been ka big drinker of coffee at any time.

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"" said Rene, who still took another sip of Coffee with another mouthful of Creme Brulee.

"

At least four people had quietly, or not quietly, fallen fast asleep on their hands, the table, or in one case, in their soup.

Several other people were fighting to stay awake.

Even as he looked around, the Don slumped to his table, and started snoring soundly.

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