Are you ready for a road trip? Good, because this week, we’re in France, at the charming snowed-in Hotel St. Marc. Pourquoi? Unclear, as yet, but the hotel is, as they say, bumpin’, when a grumpy Englishman arrives and accosts first the desk bell and then the desk clerk. The clerk attempts to make polite conversation, and is fairly rudely shut down by the gentleman, whose name is, apparently, Mr. Slade. After refusing assistance from the bellhop, Slade heads upstairs to his room, pausing only to straighten a painting in the hallway. A night of rest might have improved Slade’s mood, but it’s not to be: his nap is interrupted by the sound of someone handcuffing him to the bed frame. Who could it be?
You already know the answer to that, reader: it’s Victoria Mars, bien sur! Having secured her quarry, she explains that while the room is booked under the name Slade, this fella is actually called Mr. Percival, and he’s a notorious con man. Turns out he defrauded someone fancy and rich, and that someone came to Victoria Mars to get Mr. Percival back. She explains that there’s still some paperwork to be done, but she’s alerted the embassy, and will just chill in the room until backup arrives. He’s not so keen to just chill, and calls for help, but to no avail: our friend has extra cuffs… and a gag.
Some time later, while she plays solitaire, Mr. Percival convinces her to take off the gag on the condition that he’ll stop calling for help, and then asks for his glasses, as he can’t really see without them. I know that feeling, and sympathize, but can’t help but think a notorious conman shouldn’t be given anything that might conceal a lockpick. That’s just me though: Victoria Mars is nicer, and brings them over.
Mr. Percival: Look, you shouldn’t be treating me like this! I’m just a simple lawyer!
Victoria Mars: Uh huh, sure. And why are you in the middle of France then?
Mr. Percival: That’s confidential!
Victoria Mars: Ridiculous. Look, we’re in the middle of nowhere: there isn’t a lot of lawyering to do here, but it sure is a great place to hide. Hunker down: we’ll be here for a while.
Mr. Percival: I can’t believe you won’t even consider that you got it wrong!
Victoria Mars: Now that IS something a lawyer would say.
Mr. Percival: That’s because I am one!
Victoria Mars: Look, we’ve got the whole night in front of us. Might as well tell you what I know.
Here’s the deal: Mr. Percival has been wanted for a hot minute, and he’s so good because he never plays the same con twice. He also comes up with a fun custom disguise each time, which is pretty rad, IMHO. His last scheme? Impersonating a bookie for the Grand National (a huge horse race), and then disappearing without a trace. Well, almost: Victoria Mars was able to find train fare, a boat ticket, and reservations at the hotel where they’re presently conversing, all booked by a Mr. Slade.
Mr. Percival: It’s all a setup! Clearly someone’s trying to blame me for his crimes.
Victoria Mars: Hilarious. And untrue, obviously. Can’t believe you’ve never been caught yet!
Mr. Percival: HELP!
That yell was loud enough to rouse Clerk, who is understandably confused when Victoria Mars answers the door. He’s also not super inclined to believe her assertion that her husband was having a terrible nightmare, or, indeed, that she’s the fellow’s wife in the first place. She tries to pay him off, but no dice: Clerk barges into the room, sees Mr. Percival all tied up, and gets the actual story.
Clerk: YOU are a DETECTIVE?
Victoria Mars: Seriously, dude? I get this all the time at home, but I thought you French folk might be cool!
Clerk: Oh, no, I believe you, I was just trying to figure out if you were working with the other one.
WHOMST? Well, he said he was with Scotland Yard and told Clerk to leave him alone, but alas, it’s not our pal Duke Silver: it’s Detective Mustache! The two size each other up. He seems pretty willing to drop the pretext that he’s there for any reason other than arresting Mr. Percival, but Victoria Mars isn’t having it. She’s just there to see some friends, you see. Obviously, he sees right through that, but he DOESN’T see through the part where she pretends she hasn’t located Mr. Percival yet, so it’s a start.
Victoria Mars, following Detective Mustache: Why did you tell Clerk you were from Scotland Yard, btw?
Detective Mustache: He was asking too many questions. About this guy.
And then he opens the door to his hotel room, where there’s an altogether different gentleman tied up, and dubbed Mr. Percival.
It will probably not surprise you, reader, to learn that Detective Mustache’s Mr. Percival (hereafter DMMP), much like Victoria Mars’ Mr. Percival (hereafter VMMP) insists that he’s not any such con man, and is instead a fancy aristocrat. Does Victoria Mars tell her rival about the guy she’s got chained up upstairs? Definitely not. But her quick acquiescence and congratulations do the telling for her. He follows her into the hall to ask about it.
Detective Mustache: That’s IT? Don’t you want to know how I got him?
Victoria Mars: Nope.
Detective Mustache: Oh, I get it, you’re jealous!
Victoria Mars, wisely, lets him keep thinking that, and scampers off to talk to Clerk, who’s just finished sending a fancy couple into the lounge to wait for the rest of their dinner party to arrive.
Victoria Mars: Heyyyy. So, that other detective? He can’t know that I too have a prisoner, ok? I know it sounds weird, but I’d really appreciate it if you could keep it chill.
Clerk: Whatever, just stay in your room and don’t bother the other guests.
She heads off to do just that, but unfortunately, it’ll be easier said than done: Detective Mustache has, annoyingly, let himself into her room, and is asking questions. Specifically, who’s the rando handcuffed to the bed?
Victoria Mars: THIS is Mr. Percival. You should probably let your guy go, or he’s gonna press changes.
Detective Mustache: Oh my god. This is why you just gave up! You thought I was wrong!
VMMP, muffled, through the gag: SHE has the wrong man!
Detective Mustache: You know, you could just invest in a gun to keep your prisoners in line, like I did. It’s super effective, right VMMP?
Detective Mustache, taking off the gag: Ok, who are you, and why are you here?
Victoria Mars: He won’t say. Apparently it’s confidential.
VMMP: She’s right, I won’t talk about it while I’m caged! Let me go!
Detective Mustache: You know, we could let him get up and move around for a bit. Maybe he’ll spill the beans.
Victoria Mars: Uh, no thanks, that sounds like a terrible idea.
Detective Mustache: You sure? And are you sure you got the right guy? It’d be super bad if you assaulted the wrong person.
Victoria Mars: You make a good point. Let him out for a second.
And so they do, which finally convinces VMMP to spill the beans. He’s here to see a client named Mr. Nelson, who moved to this small village some years back to marry a local gal. They’ve recently decided to divorce, and VMMP is here to facilitate.
VMMP: Dude, I don’t know what’s up with the two of you, but I’m assuming you’re her boss?
Detective Mustache: No, we’re rivals! But I’m fancier and more successful.
VMMP: Well that’s probably why she screwed up so bad.
Victoria Mars: Ok first of all, I’m plenty successful, and the show’s named after me, so… scoreboard. Second of all, I have a mountain of evidence.
Detective Mustache: Yeah, but remember those detectives at Bow street last year? They also had a ton of evidence, but their “Mr. Percival” was actually totally innocent. He’s tricky like that! And I can prove the same thing is happening to you.
Locking VMMP back up, they head into the hallway, where Detective Mustache gloats that when Victoria Mars realizes she’s wrong she’ll need to set VMMP loose, whereupon he’ll head right to the cops and/or sue her, given that he’s a lawyer and all.
Victoria Mars: He’s a conman, not a lawyer. And the only reason I’ve agreed to talk to your prisoner is to make sure you let him go. Poor guy.
Detective Mustache: You do know you’re not my boss.
Victoria Mars, ignoring him: Hurry up.
Back in Detective Mustache’s room, DMMP tells his side of the story: he’s in France as part of a sort of gap year: his father recently passed, leaving DMMP an estate. Before he takes over, he wants to party, and came to this hotel because it has a neat historical stained glass window.
Detective Mustache: Unnecessary details, the hallmark of a liar! Also his accent is weird, ergo, fake. But I have real evidence too: we looked into the bookie company and found records all tying back to him. Also look at this picture from a police sketch artist. It’s exactly like him!
Victoria Mars: Why didn’t you tell me any of this before??
Detective Mustache: Showmanship!
See, that’s the kind of zinger that makes me like Detective Mustache, snake though he may undoubtedly be! Anyway, those actual clues are enough to make Victoria Mars set aside their differences to solve the puzzle, because they’re just as legit as the evidence that she followed. Pulling Detective Mustache into the hall, she tries to explain this to him, but he decides to assume she’s just wrong instead of listening.
Apparently enjoying this argument too much to let up, he follows Victoria Mars into the lounge where she asks a good question: if she really did get it wrong, who laid the false trail?
Detective Mustache: Mr. Percival! Duh!
Victoria Mars: But why would he lead me to the same hotel where he’s actually staying? Why not send me on a wild goose chase?
Detective Mustache: Huh. Good point.
Victoria Mars: The way I see it, there are three answers: one of us is right, both of us are right, or both of us are wrong and he’s somewhere else entirely.
The solution? Put both men in a room together for questioning. Naturally, they quickly turn on each other, but Victoria Mars doesn’t have time for that, and gets right to the point.
Victoria Mars: DMMP, how do you explain the evidence against you?
DMMP: My dad had a lot of enemies. Maybe someone’s trying to get revenge.
VMMP: Pathetic. And while SHE might buy it, he won’t.
DMMP: A woman who runs a detective agency isn’t a fool.
VMMP: See, he’s just trying to suck up to you! He even dresses like a fraud!
DMMP: Well you look like an undertaker!
They descend into a petty argument, and have only just stopped following a return appearance from Detective Mustache’s gun, when Clerk knocks on the door. There’s a visitor. For Victoria Mars. It’s the cops.
Detective Mustache: Ugh, you called them?
Victoria Mars: I thought I caught a criminal! I needed their help to bring him in.
Detective Mustache: I was just gonna hire three goons to wrestle him onto a private boat, but whatever. This is bad, dude.
Victoria Mars: Well, maybe he’s cool.
LOL. Reader, he’s not, and he isn’t interested in hearing Victoria Mars’ explanation either. He was told there was only one guy to arrest, and now there’s TWO?
Victoria Mars: We’re still sorting the situation out. You may want to detain them both while my… associate… and I continue our work.
Gendarme: Don’t tell me what to do. You have no jurisdiction. Wait here, and I’ll go investigate.
Detective Mustache: Well. Drink?
Not a horrible idea, so that’s what they do. And Detective Mustache takes the opportunity to do a wee bit of mansplaining about why this situation is extra bad. In his experience, he explains, a small town like this has very little crime. Two potential most wanted criminals give this local cop a chance to make it big.
Victoria Mars: I have more faith in people.
Detective Mustache: LOL, no you don’t.
Victoria Mars: Whatever. Who are you working for anyway?
Detective Mustache: No one! It’s for the glory. Mr. Percival is wanted all over the globe. And don’t roll your eyes about it, I know you’re also super ambitious, that’s why I keep trying to get you to come work for me. It’s because you don’t trust me, right?
Victoria Mars: Can you blame me? You’re definitely being inconsistent with that cane, which makes me think you’ve got it to mess with me; it’s like you want me to make me think you got shot because of me.
Me: Uh, he did? They were trying to shoot you?
Detective Mustache: What the recapper said.
Victoria Mars: I can’t think of a good transition, so just putting it out there: what if we’re both wrong?
Detective Mustache: You think it’s someone else at the hotel? I don’t see any obvious suspects.
Victoria Mars: Well, when I was growing up I used to play a game with my dad where I’d have to tell him things about total strangers.
Adorable, and a great way to pass the time, so that’s what they do. Unsurprisingly, they have a lot of fun, and they’re both pretty good at the game, predicting the behavior of the gentleman half of the fancy couple who checked in earlier. They also realize that the cop has been upstairs for quite some time, and head up to investigate. What if he’s run off with their suspects!? It’s an interesting idea, but unfortunately not what’s happening here: when they get to the room, they find the cop flat on his back, and possibly not breathing. Detective Mustache runs off to get help, while Victoria Mars examines the cop. You guessed it: he’s dead, and this case just got upgraded from fraud to murder.
While the detectives examine the body, Detective Mustache explains that he told Clerk to call the cops, and to forbid anyone from leaving. On the plus side, it’s started to snow heavily outside, so it’s unlikely anyone would want to leave anyway.
Victoria Mars: No obvious cause of death. You said he just collapsed?
DMMP: He was questioning us, and then I asked for water so he poured a glass for both of us. Then after a few minutes his breathing got funny and he keeled over.
Detective Mustache: POISON?
DMMP: Please call a doctor! I drank the water too!
The cop drank the water. He didn’t.
The squabbling between the two Potential Percivals resumes, ending with VMMP claiming that DMMP has come here to hurt him. Why? Because he’s the real Mr. Percival, and he’ll explain everything if they’ll just take him somewhere safe. Back in Detective Mustache’s room, he explains that being a famous con man is starting to lose its sparkle; he’s running out of places to hide, and escaping is less fun.
VMMP: I can’t say for sure who that guy is, but I’ve seen him before back in London. I was coming home one night and saw movement inside. Peered through the window and saw that guy waiting for me, with a gun.
Victoria Mars: Is he one of your victims?
VMMP: I think he’s a contract killer. One of the larger bets on the race was placed by a Russian fella. I found out after that he’s a gangster, and a killer. My life is in danger, you have to let me go.
Victoria Mars: Sit down. I’ve been hired to bring you home and that’s what I’ll do.
Back in the other room, DMMP continues to plead with Detective Mustache to get a doctor. Thankfully, our slimy friend isn’t feeling that, and continues to examine the glass the dead police officer used.
DMMP: He drank a bunch of the water, and I only had a sip.
Detective Mustache: Well, our friend says you didn’t have any.
DMMP: He’s lying! And not just about that, about everything. He’s not Percival… I am.
Obviously, Detective Mustache follows up on that, and HIS Mr. Percival has a similar story to Victoria Mars’: the other one must be a hired killer. There might even be others! All the while, DMMP’s breathing gets shallower and shallower, until finally Detective Mustache bends close to loosen his captive’s necktie… only to have the man in question snatch our mustachioed friend’s gun.
DMMP, suddenly has an American accent: Back up and put your hands up. Give me the key to these cuffs.
Detective Mustache: Who are you?
DMMP: I’m a detective from Boston. Originally from New Hampshire!
Me, also born in the Texas of New England and watching in Boston:
DMMP: I’ve been after Percival for years. I almost got him in London; I was waiting for him in his safe house, but he didn’t come back. Your guys did, though. TL;DR, that other guy is Percival, and I’m gonna arrest him.
Detective Mustache: Cool, so you’ll kill us like you did the cop?
DMMP: I didn’t kill him, he just collapsed. But there might be something in the water, IDK. The cops can look into it, but I’ll be long gone.
Detective Mustache: And what about me?
Well, he’ll be locked up in the boiler room with Victoria Mars, who unfortunately opened up the door to the room where she was interrogating VMMP without looking through the peephole first. She’s busily attempting to escape, and finally convinces Detective Mustache to stop sulking and help with the breakout. Her plan? Utilize his team, sending some men to two of the three nearby ports that sail to America while the two of them head to the third. The problem? He left his team back home in London.
Detective Mustache: We’re way overstretched; I couldn’t spare anyone. And when I found out you had a lead and were coming here too…
Victoria Mars: Wait, what? How did you know?
Detective Mustache: The wall of your office, duh!
Victoria Mars: You are infuriating. Why don’t you ever tell the truth?
Detective Mustache: My brother used to say the same thing. We came to London together; it was his idea to open the agency. He was a good detective; he did the work, and I did the gladhanding. He’d help anyone; he had morals. Anyway, this family paid him to find their missing daughter, upfront. A lot of people would have taken the money and ran, but not him: he found her. She’d been taken by a drunk man with a knife, and he stabbed my brother. He died almost instantly.
Victoria Mars: So the moral of your story is lie and you live?
Detective Mustache: There’s no moral! I’m just saying that some of us are survivors. That’s why we should work together.
Victoria Mars: This is a ridiculous attempt to get me to sympathize with you. I’ll NEVER work for you. Never. I don’t know when you made that story up, but I don’t believe it at all. I bet you never even had a brother.
Unfortunately, I think our friend might be wrong on this one, but honestly, I can’t blame her. This is a classic boy who cried wolf situation! Anyway, he gets out of his cuffs, and hands her the key.
Upstairs, Victoria Mars finds Clerk, who explains that someone has stolen a horse and carriage.
Victoria Mars: I might know who that was. Hey, I need a favor: I need to send a telegram to Scotland Yard.
Clerk: I SUPER don’t care. The cops can help you when they arrive.
Fair enough! She heads into the lounge to start trying to write that telegram. At the bar, Detective Mustache flirts with the female half of the fancy couple that arrived earlier. Meanwhile, the fancy gentleman chats up Victoria Mars.
Fancy Fella: I hope you don’t mind; I don’t like drinking alone.
Victoria Mars: What about your companion?
Fancy Fella: Oh, we’re not together. We met on the boat. I thought we were getting along, but whatever.
Victoria Mars: Look, I don’t want to be rude, but I’m working, so.
Fancy Fella: No worries, just ignore me. But also, are you having a good time?
Victoria Mars: Not so much, no.
Fancy Fella: Same. I wish I hadn’t come here. I’m a hotelier — I’ve got property in Delhi, London, Paris… someone in London said I should come here and check it out. Should have known not to trust a lawyer.
Victoria Mars, crime antenna raised: A lawyer?
Fancy Fella: Works for the owner. The guy’s super keen to sell; he’s married to a local woman and they had a messy breakup, so he wants to get the heck outta here.
Victoria Mars: So you came here to buy the hotel?
Fancy Fella: Yeah, I mean it’s a small place but it’s SUPER profitable. I was meant to meet the owner for dinner with the lawyer, but they never showed. I was going to just leave, but I didn’t get far.
Yes, that lawyer DID have the same name as the one VMMP gave her earlier, why do you ask? After hearing that, and why Fancy Fella didn’t leave earlier, Victoria Mars makes a beeline for Detective Mustache, and interrupts his flirting: they need to talk. Now.
Victoria Mars: Hey, remember how there’s only one super steep, super narrow road up to this place?
Detective Mustache: Yeah, and?
Victoria Mars: Well, Fancy Fella just told me the snow made that road impassable. I think DMMP and VMMP are still here!
Not a bad thought, so they head off together to quietly search the place, starting with Detective Mustache’s room. After squabbling over who’s going in first, they finally head inside. At first glance, it seems like no one is there, but it turns out that DMMP actually is; he’s just been conked on the head and cuffed to the bed.
Detective Mustache, righteously annoyed: Oh no, did someone lock you up?? I’m taking my gun back.
Victoria Mars: What happened?
DMMP: Ugh. I took a coach and tried to leave, but I couldn’t get far in the storm. Brought him back here to make another plan, and he knocked me out.
Victoria Mars: We need to go, he’s got to be somewhere in the hotel.
DMMP: Wait! I know I was mean, but we’re on the same team! Let me out!
Victoria Mars: Yeah, no. Bye!
What next? Well, Victoria Mars sends Detective Mustache upstairs to check VMMP’s room, while she checks something out in reception.
Detective Mustache: Nobody up there but a dead French cop. Speaking of whom, if the road’s been blocked for hours, how did he get here?
Victoria Mars: He didn’t. It was snowing outside, but his coat was dry.
Detective Mustache: Ah. He’s not the real police chief.
Victoria Mars: Right. I think he was posing as a guest. Do any of these names look familiar to you?
Sure do: there’s someone with the same name as the winner of last year’s grand national staying in room 12. They got him. But they aren’t alone: someone else is already in room 12, holding VMMP at gunpoint: Fancy Lady from earlier!
VMMP: Please, I’ll give you whatever you want. Don’t hurt me!
Fancy Lady: What I want is for you to watch Clerk drink this poison. So much quieter than a gun!
Thankfully, before she can poison Clerk, Detective Mustache and Victoria Mars burst in with their gun. Why is she trying to poison Clerk, anyway?
Victoria Mars, with the solve: They’re working together! Mr. Percival isn’t one man, he’s several!
Having separated everyone, Detective Mustache asks for clarification: how did she know? Well, Clerk introduced the policeman to them when he knew he wasn’t actually a cop at all, for a start. And what’s the deal with Fancy Lady? Clerk gives the same explanation as VMMP did earlier: a hired assassin, working for a Russian gangster. She must have followed Clerk and VMMP back to room 12 after they’d locked up DMMP.
Detective Mustache: So who’s the real Mr. Percival?
Clerk: I was the first to use the name. Others work with me, sometimes even pretending to be me; there have been a few, but recently just VMMP and Gendarme, RIP. He wasn’t supposed to be a cop, but we had to improvise.
Detective Mustache: What was he supposed to be doing?
Clerk: Being the hotel owner. We were going to sell the place to that Fancy Fella from Delhi. The actual owner’s drinking himself to death in town. He basically left me in charge after I showed up a month ago. I still have money… if you let me go…
Detective Mustache: This isn’t about money.
Victoria Mars: I’m JUST starting to respect you, don’t ruin it.
The next morning, the detectives give their statements to the local cops — the real ones — who take over the investigation. Despite losing the case, they did gain something else: a tentative friendship, and breakfast plans in town. Will the tentative friendship last any longer than breakfast? I doubt it, but there’s only one way to find out: watching next week’s episode, of course!