Cette nouvelle appartient au genre des récits Wold Newton, qui consiste à faire se rencontrer différents héros de la littérature populaire (voir la fiche Tarzan alive pour plus de détails).
L'histoire commence avec le chevalier Dupin, le détective d'Edgar Poe. En promenade dans Paris, il tombe sur un attroupement autour d'un cadavre. Alors que la police pense qu'il s'agit de la victime d'un duel, Dupin, à l'aide de ces raisonnements dont il a le secret, arrive à la conclusion que l'homme a été torturé à coups d'épée et tué. Il exprime ses convictions publiquement, persuadé que l'auteur du meurtre (dont il a deviné l'identité) se manifestera auprès de lui.
De fait, l'homme en question lui rend visite: il s'agit du comte de Monte-Cristo. Ce dernier explique à Dupin que Valentine Morrel, la femme de Maximilien, a été enlevée par les Habits Noirs (les brigands de Paul Féval), qui réclament une rançon.
Mais Monte-Cristo n'entend pas céder à ces tueurs impitoyables. Ayant fait parler l'un d'eux, il projette d'enlever la comtesse de Clare, l'une des responsables de l'organisation criminelle, pour l'échanger contre Valentine.
Il mène ce projet à bien avec l'aide d'Haydée, Jacopo, Dupin, etc... Monte-Cristo et Dupin deviennent les meilleurs amis du monde.
(Monte-Cristo) settled back, apparently quite at ease, and commenced his tale.
"After I had achieved my aim of justice against those men who had wronged me, I left France with every intention of never returning. I had a bride whom I was learning to love, and had left matters completely settled - or so I believed. My house on the Champs-Elysées I had left to the son of my old master and friend, Maximillian Morrel. He had wed Valentine de Villefort, and their life promised to be one of happiness.
"However, this was not to be. Two weeks ago, I received an urgent missive from Morrel, telling me that his wife had been kidnapped, and was being held for ransom. He feared greatly for her safety, and begged assistance. Even if I were not moved by compassion and friendship to agree, my wife, Haydée, would have forced me into it, for she and Valentine were great friends. Accordingly, we returned as swiftly as possible. Yesterday, I met with Morrel, who is a broken man after the abduction of his beloved wife, and learned the details of the story. She had been taken on the street in broad daylight, and her maid assaulted. It was clear that this was the work of the Black Coats." He paused. "I take it you know of the association?"
Dupin nodded and smiled. "I have caused that organization more than a small amount of inconvenience. I should relish causing them more."
"So would I," Monte-Cristo answered fervently. "As I say, it was swiftly apparent that they were behind the kidnapping and ransom of poor Valentine."
"They have demanded money for her return, then?" I asked.
"They have." He named a considerable sum, more than Dupin or I would make in ten years.
"There is a problem with paying this amount, then?" I asked him.
"The amount? No." He waved a hand. "Morrel or I could - and would - pay ten times that figure for Valentine's safe return. The problem is not financial, but a matter of trust."
Dupin saw that I did not understand, so he elucidated. "The Black Coats will require the ransom to be delivered before the lady is returned. However, once they have the money and the lady, what is the likelihood that they will set the lady free? In many cases, the victim may be considered to have seen too much."
I understood. "You think it likely, then," I questioned the Count, "that they will take the money and kill the lady instead of fulfilling their bargain and setting her free?"
"It is more than likely," he replied. "But, even if they do allow her to go free - once they know Morrel will pay, what is to stop them from abducting her again and forcing the family through this torture a second or third time?"
Dupin nodded. "Given the habits of the Black Coats, I believe your assessment of their likely strategy to be a sound one. I take it, then, that you have a different plan?"
"Indeed." Monte-Cristo resumed his tale. "It was the work of a few short hours to learn that the man whose body you examined last night was a lieutenant in the Black Coats. It was a simple matter to divert him, and his fate you know, of course."
I believed I now understood. "Ah! So you tortured him to make him tell you the whereabouts of the unfortunate Madame Morrel!"
"Had he known them, it would have been a great help," the Count replied. But the Black Coat organization is large, and he did not know who was responsible for the kidnapping. I thought it unlikely that he would."
"You had a different aim in mind, then?" Dupin asked. I could tell that the case intrigued him. He hated boredom more than anything, and this case was proving to be of the greatest interest.
"Yes - an exchange of prisoners. If I could take as hostage someone that the Black Coats valued, then this person might be exchanged for Valentine. It would ensure the safety of my friend's wife, and also stand the Black Coats on notice that any further attempt on her person would be met by serious reprisals."