Precise Protection

Monsieur L’Horloge, meticulously placed the tiny gears in the order that he removed each one from the chronoton. Adjusting his magnifying rig, he checked to see if there was any dust or other outside contaminates in the interior.

Normally, work of this sort was like meditation for him. The way a chronoton worked, each piece linked to another, their roles clearly defined made him feel that all was right within the Arrondissement. It wasn’t though and it seemed to be getting decreasingly less right with the passage of time.

Beyond the weight of the strange and dangerous events that had arisen, there was the matter of his new protector.

Standing in the center of his office and workspace stood the Precise Chevalier. She was tall and lean, but moved with purpose, when she did. At the moment she merely stood. Her armor was a made from a fine crimson chainmail with a dark blue trim, though it was tailored as a knee-length jacked and matching trousers. Her rapier hung from a baldric made of supple grey leather, the same material as her boots.
She did not engage him in frivolous small talk or stalk about the room. In fact, most people would forget that she was even there, given her silence and stillness. However Monsieur L’Horloge was not most people. He had grown accustomed to working with no others present, his by appointment policy was partially because his did such fine work and could insist upon such conditions. But mostly he disliked people observing him work.

The Precise Chevalier was chosen for the reason that she would not violate his rules with the exception of her presence. It was not his decision, which further irked him. Zsófia had insisted. She told him that if he did not hire someone for protection, she would not only leave him but would not shed a tear when he was killed, nor attend his funeral. He suggested that she was being overly dramatic, which was very poorly received, and in the end, he relented.

Satisfied that the chronoton was clean and working properly, he slowly reassembled it, wound it and listened to the soft and steady measure of the gears. Giving it a polish with the chamois, he placed in the velvet lined case and placed the case in a drawer.

“I have a luncheon appointment,” he announced.

The Precise Chevalier nodded and moved to the door, waiting.

“It will not be necessary for you to accompany me,” Monsieur L’Horloge said anticipating the following response.

“That would be a violation of the tenets of the Coterie du Honor, Monsieur, I must not leave your side. You may count on my compete discretion in all matters, your secrets are mine, for as long as I draw breath, and beyond.”

Monsieur L’Horloge sighed and pulled on his coat. They moved to the entrance at the end of the hall just in time to disembark from the building. Her squire, Aliásar was waiting with a velo-pede.

“Where to Monsieur?”

They eventually arrived at a brasserie in the artist’s quarter. It was loud and full of self-involved people who were unlikely to try and eavesdrop. Frau Schlüsselherrin was waiting at a table in the middle of the place, and had a plate of bread, cheese and pickles in front of her.
“L’Horloge, Chevalier,” she said slathering a piece of bread with grainy mustard.

“What have you learned?” he asked.

The key mistress took a bite, chewed and swallowed.

“Not much. Other than old tales and children’s stories. You?”

“Just some obscure references in old texts. Zsófia is doing some research, but nothing yet.”

Their conversation took a pause, as neither knew what to say. L’Horloge flagged a waiter and ordered a small bowl of cheese broth, the Precise Chevalier only required water but he wanted some wine.

“I feel as though we are being hunted by scraps of malice.”

“Very poetic but it’s not actually helpful,” Schlüsselherrin snapped.

“What great insights have you brought?”

Frau Schlüsselherrin’s eyes narrowed and her nostrils flared.

“While you are assuredly a worthy foe,” said the Precise Chevalier, “your death would only serve your enemies. And I would regret removing your genius from the Arrondissement.”

The key mistress took a deep breath and said, “I’m sorry. I let my temper get the better of me.”

“I accept your apology and please do the same for me. This business takes a toll.”

They shook hands and switched places at the table, ending the matter.

“I have some good news, though it is a small thing.”

Monsieur L’Horloge removed a small square of brown paper from his jacket and handed it to Frau Schlüsselherrin. She read it.

“So someone else is looking for the key? That sounds like bad news.”

“We had to assume that others would be looking, but now we have some clue as to whom is doing it.”

“They hired a finder, we should’ve done that.”

“But they are having trouble.”

“Our client (they had agreed never to speak her name aloud as a precaution), is working on that.”

“I wish we had more.”

“As do I.”

Just then the bowl of cheese broth and glass of wine was placed before Frau Schlüsselherrin, prompting some plate and glass switching but quickly, everyone had the correct food and drink. Monsieur L’Horloge raised his glass.

“To the slaying of the spider.”

The two craftsmen clinked glasses and drank.

“Pardon, but to what spider do you refer?” asked the Precise Chevalier.

Monsieur L’Horloge looked at Frau Schlüsselherrin who shrugged. He took out his notebook and opened it to the sketch of the spider that was found both on the box containing the dangerous machine, as well as on the pin of the burglar.

“The Spinners,” she said with a particular, undisguised hatred.

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Talk and Tuxedo

Novice Hortense scrubbed the red stones of the vestry while the tuxedo cat watched. As unappealing as the task was, she reminded herself that there were worse things. Far worse.

“I see, I see,” said the novice, “I was just getting to that spot.”

The cat made a sarcastic noise. Hortense sighed and looked up.

“Would you like to help out?”

With a flick of her tail, she indicated that she was just fine where she was, perched in a window.

“That’s what I thought. Now can we get back to the matter at hand?”

A resigned meow indicated yes.

“Now I didn’t get too close, there was something off about him. He was easy to overlook, ordinary, almost too ordinary.”

This elicited a querulous sound.

“I know what it sounds like, but it’s the best description I can come up with.”

Hortense resumed her scrubbing, paying particular attention to the problem spot. When it was finally clean, the tuxedo made a pleased sound.

“I’m delighted you approve but the question is, who was that who hired the finder?”

The cat walked in a circle, sat and stared.

“True, it is very little to go on. If this is beyond the scope of your union, I will settle your contact right now.”

A yowl echoed off the blood red walls.

“Keep it down! The sisters might hear you!”

Ears went down at this.

“I apologize but I must be careful.”

Black and white ears slowly rose.

“You’re welcome. This man might be impossible to find, even with your union’s considerable skills and resources. I say this with all due respect.”

A questioning mrrow was issued.

“That’s an excellent idea!”

Purring filled vestry.

“Follow the finder, her name is Olivia, I’m afraid I don’t have a sur-“

A sudden chatter interrupted her.

“Of course, you know her and her family. That’s an excellent solution.”

Hortense stood and scratched the feline behind her ears, of course from the cat’s perspective, she was given permission to do this. Most people are unaware of this unspoken contract, but Hortense understood. Opening the stained glass window, the tuxedo leapt out and disappeared into the night, as all her kind could do.

Kneeling once more, Hortense continued her chores. She could count on the fact that the floor of the vestry would be dirty again tomorrow but she also could count on the vanity of cats.

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Not Here Either

Olivia’s knack didn’t usually work this way. Finding the other earring wasn’t difficult, but retrieving became very involved. It was hanging from a chain around the neck of seller of lost hats. He swore that it he would never part with it. Never! Unless…

Before she would recover it, she would reconcile the hat seller with his estranged husband, who was glass reverser (he turned discarded wine bottles back into sand and purified metal salts) needed a set of dice from a childhood board game, those were held by a mirror madam, who wanted her correct reflection back from the River. It continued after that but after much searching, cajoling, rummaging, and one riddle contest, she finally was given the Tag Aorous earring.

It was breathtaking, looking at it made you think of a perfect summer day, neither too hot nor too humid. It made you believe of the possibility of new love. Olivia tore her eyes away and returned it to her inside pocket, the one inside the third inside pocket.

She followed the scent of hot chocolat and found her way back to the cart. The proprietress was handing a pair of cups to a hooded woman.

“Merci! These smell like a mother’s hug,” said the hooded woman, her tail twitching with excitement.

“You flatter me but I won’t argue with you!”

Olivia caught the chocolat vendor’s eye and was gestured over.

“Any progress?” asked the vendor.

Olivia took the earring and placed it in the woman’s hand. Eyes wide, the vendor touched it, as if verifying that it was there.

“I can’t believe this, I…”

“It was a challenge,” Olivia said with a smile, “but I’m glad to have helped you.”

A tear ran down the chocolat makers face. Most people couldn’t afford her services so when she could reunite someone with a lost treasure, someone who had lost hope of ever seeing that thing again, it made her feel as though the arrondissement was a better place.

Suddenly, she was embraced. It was not unpleasant.

“I can never repay this,” murmured the vendor.

“There was the offer of unlimited chocolat,” said Olivia.

She held her out and squeezed the finder’s arms.

“You will never pay for another chocolat or pâtisserie or anything else I make. Let me start to make good.”

She was a good as her word, a large cup of chocolat and a bag stuffed with an assortment of sweets including almond dreams, ruby delights, petit eights, and moon pies (made with real moondust) were placed in her hands.

“You’re too generous.”

“Not at all! Please come back as often as you desire,” she said with toss of her head, the earrings flashed in the late afternoon sun.

Olivia wandered the stalls but the key she was looking for would not be found. It was very odd but no insight seemed forthcoming so she made her way to one of the many exits.

After a winding walk along narrow streets and alleyways, she found her way back to the arrondissement proper, though what that was subject to much debate among learned people. She had turned out near the Skeletal Cathedral so she sat on the stairs leading to that hollow edifice, nibbling on the contents of her bag of sweets and watched people on their way home, or whatever the night held for them.

“Good evening.”

Olivia didn’t hear him approch, she never did. It was as if he just slid in. That didn’t quite do it justice, but it was the best way she had of describing it.
“Would you like something sweet?” she said offering the bag to him.

“No. You have not found it yet.”

“I have not.”

“You assured us that you would have no problem finding this item.”

“I did.”

“And yet, you have failed.”

Olivia looked him in his non-descript face and said, “I have not failed! I’ve just not succeeded, yet.”

“I do not see the distiction.”

“This item (he had insisted that it be refered to as such), doesn’t want to be found. All lost things want to be found.”

“That is not my problem. It is your problem.”

“It’s going to take more time.”

“This is not a luxury you have,” said the man. He said it like you might say ‘it’s raining, or we’re out of cheese,’ but the threat was there.

“If you don’t wish to retain my services, I can stop right now.”

There was pause after she said that. She filled the silence by eating a bright red pastry that changed to orange and then to yellow before she popped it into her mouth.

“I wish to continue to engage your services. There will be a substantial bonus if you acquire it soon.”

“That’s not necessary.”

“Consider it an incentive.”

“I don’t’-“ she said turning to the client, but he had slid away. As always without a sound.

Sighing, she stood and began to walk to the monorail. As much as she wanted to devour the entire bag of pastries, it was her family custom to share any unexpected bounty. Just as Olivia turned a corner, she bumped into someone, knocking them to the pavement.

“I’m sorry!” she exclaimed.

The prone figure was a nun, a young woman in the habit of the order of the Déception Éternelle.

“It’s fine, just an accident,”

Olivia helped her to her feet.

“I must apologize again sister, it was terribly clumsy of me.”

“I’m not a sister yet, just a novice,” she replied.

“Either way, it was my fault, I’m a little distracted.”

“What troubles you?” asked the novice.

“I don’t want to burden you.”

“Sometimes, just saying what your problem is can lead to a solution.”

Olivia laughed and then covered her mouth.

“Sorry, that was rude.”

“I will forgive you if you tell me what is bothering you.”

“I’m looking for something but I cannot find it.”

“Where did you last see it?”

Olivia paused. She never spoke about work outside of family but there was something about this novice.

“I’ve never actually seen it.

“Oh! You’re a finder?”

“I am.”

“Then I won’t ask for details, I’m sure you have rules about that.”

“We do, have you engaged one before?”

“No, but everyone has rules.”

“True enough.”

“So why can’t you find this thing?”

“I don’t know, it’s.. Elusive.”

The novice crinkled her eyes as she thought and then said, “Well, I know very little about what you do but when what I’m doing doesn’t work, I’d try something new.”

“What do you mean?”

“You could try not looking for it.”

“That’s…” Olivia trailed off.

“Of course, I’m no finder.”

“So let it find me?”

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have-“

“No, that’s an interesting thought.”

“Really?”

“It could work.”

“Good luck then, I must return to for evening prayers.”

“Thank you! And again, I’m so sorry I knocked you down.”

“Part of the ineffable plan!”

“Good evening novice… What is your name?”

“I am called novice Hortense.”

“I’m Olivia.”

“Good fortune Olivia, I hope you find what you seek.”

“I hope prayers are… holy?”
“They always are!”

And with that Hortense moved off through the crowds. Once she was out of sight of Olivia, she stepped into a doorway, scribbled a note on a square piece of paper and folded it into the shape of a wren. It fluttered into the evening sky.

With a sigh, she made her way back to the nunnery. If she could endure the inevitable scolding and make it through evening prayers, she could endure being called Hortense. Not as pretty a name as Maxi, but safer. Much safer.

Posted in Arrondissement, Short Stories | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Death and Complications

The brasserie was silent except for the occasional clink of a glass, the turning of a page, the gentle glug of a drink being poured or the footsteps of the wait staff. In a corner, sat a woman dressed in a grey suit. Despite the warm glow of the gaslights, her complexion was pallid and her short hair was pale blonde that bordered on silver. A small glass of dark liquor sat in front of her, untouched.

“Bonsoir Detective Durand.”

“Bonsoir Sergeant Arpin,” she said, “Please sit down.”

Doing so, he looked around.

“Slow night?”

“Not at all.”

Arpin was about to signal the waitress when she appeared and placed a tall glass of beer in front of him.

“What is this?” he asked.

“A lingonberry sour monsieur,” replied the waitress as she left.

He sipped it and his whiskers twitched.

“That’s very good! How did she know I’d want this?” he exclaimed.

This last comment provoked a chorus of shushes from the other patrons.

“Please keep your voice down, the customers here value their quiet and privacy.”

“Then why not stay home?”

“Not all homes are calm.”

“I see.”

“As for Monique, she has a knack for knowing what people wish to drink, it cuts down on the chatter.”

“Very efficient. But why meet here?”

“Because people mind their own business.”

She slid a folder across the table to him. Opening it, it was a missing persons report. He read it while she sipped her dark liquor.

“Can the dead be considered missing?” he asked.

“Legally they can,” she replied, “under the Proclamation of Fantôme Rights.”

Arpin took a drink of his beer, it was excellent, and looked at Durand.

“I’m not sure why you wanted to speak with me, I’ve never worked in the Department of Méfait Des Morts so what is it that I can do for you?”

She tapped on the report.

“The missing spirit, Etitan Chardin, dead seventy eight years, buried in the catacombs very near where the break of that bar you’re investigating.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“Is it possible he has moved on? I read that that sometimes happens.”
“Possible but unlikely. When a ghost completes unfinished business, the others would know.”

“Might they lie about that?”

“To what end? And why report him missing?”

“I suppose so.”

“One more thing, the proprietress of the bar where the break-in and fight happened,” Durand checked her notes, “Mistress Rosamund. She was a spirit wrangler in her homeland.”

“So you think she’s involved?”

“Perhaps. She does hold a license for theatrical ectoplasmic manipulation.”

“It’s a little out of fashion these days.”

Durand shrugged.

“Maybe that’s why she opened a bar.”

“The question is, how are they connected, if at all?”

“I’m not sure they are but…”

“Would you like to question Mistress Rosamund with me?” asked Arpin.

Durand cocked her head to the side as if listening to something and said, “Yes, that would be agreeable.”

“Very well, tomorrow then?”

“Tomorrow,” she replied.

The door opened and a paper owl flew into the room and landed on Arpin’s wrist. He unwrapped it and read the message.

“A break in the case?” asked Durand.

“No. At least I think not. Another break-in and a death.”

“Let me know if a spirit shows up.”

Getting up and buttoning up his coat, he replied, “You’re on top of my list.”

When he arrived at the scene, the flashing lights of official velo-pedes illuminated the front of the home. Several uniformed gendarmes in their tall helmets were keeping overcurious bystanders at bay. He approached the closest one and showed her his insignia.

“They are waiting for you Sergeant Gendarme, on the second floor,” she said.

His nose caught the distinct scent of ozone as soon as he crossed the threshold. There was also the odor of burnt flesh. One flight up, in the study was Doctor Flandrin, the forensic chirurgeon was kneeling over the charred body.

“So, is this the burglar,” said Arpin.

“What remains of him,” replied Doctor Flandrin looking up. Her eyes were comicaly magnified by the lenses of her enlargement goggles.

“Cause of death?”

“In my learned opinion, He was electrocuted.”

He looked at the steel and crystal display case. It contained a folio, clearly old but in excellent condition. What was of more interest was the Tesla coil protruding from below.

“I believe I’ve discovered the source of electrocution.”

“As always, your powers of deduction astound me Sergeant Gendarme,” said Doctor Flandrin.

“It is my raison d’etre,” Arpin said, “Was there anything on the body?”

Flandrin pointed to a cloth next to the body, it contained charred and melted tools, a blackened chronoton and what had most likley been a billfold but now resembled a shrivled prawn. Arpin sighed, little could be learned from these, though the chronoton did lock down the time of death.

“This was all?”

Without taking her magified eyes off the body, the doctor pointed to the lapel. There was a pin attached.

“It’s fused to the material but that’s ready to crumble,” she said as she slowly measured the victim’s legs.

“May I take this now?”

“Do you need it at this moment?”

“Yes.”

“Then by all means, please have it.”

It was discoloured and slightly warped, easy to miss at first glance. With a gentle twist, he removed it and placed it in a hankerchief.

“The owner is downstairs, should you wish to do some acctual investigation.”

“Where would I be without your wisdom?”

“I shudder to think,” said Doctor Flandrin.

He understood that was the end of this conversation. Wrapping the pin in a handkerchief, he left the study and went downstairs. In the sitting room was the owner, a Monsieur L’Horloge and his guest, Frau Schlüsselherrin. They did not seem to be lovers, his first impression was colleagues.

“Good evening, my name Gendarme Sergeant Arpin, I would like to ask you some questions,” he said, “May we sit?”

And they did. Arpin learned the following things. L’Horloge and Schlüsselherrin were not lovers, they were colleagues, though maybe not friends. The Folio was extremely valuable, but only to a select group of professionals or academics. While having a Tesla coil might seem an illegally excessive home defense, his insurance papers stipulated its installation. Both claimed to have arrived just after the intruder was killed. (A subsequent interview with the velo-pede driver corroborated that.) The two were working on a project together but their guild rules forbade them from revealing its nature. Other details were taken, papers checked and so on.

“I think that should be all for now, “ said Arpin, “but I might contact you both should I have additional questions.”

“Of course,” said L’Horloge.

“Ya,” added Schlüsselherrin.

“Then I will bid you both good night, I have assigned two uniformed gendarmes to stand guard outside.”

“That’s not necessary-” began the clockmaker.

“I must insist,” interrupted Arpin, “it would be negligent of us to leave you unattended. Frau, we have velo-pede waiting to ferry you home safely.”

The key mistress did not look reassured but nodded. Arpin turned to leave but stopped and looked back.

“One more thing, if you would indulge me?”

“Certainly.”

Arpin took out his handkerchief and unfolded it to display the carbonized pin.

“Do either of you recognize this? The intruder was wearing it on his lapel. I thought it was a floret of some kind, but on second glance, I think it rather looks more like spider.”

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Questions and Schnapps

Dipping a pen in golden ink, she drew a diagram in the air. Both gazed with an intense focus as they circled it.

“Very elegant,” he said.

“Danke,” she replied.

A moment passed.

“However…”

“I know.”

“Schnapps?”

“Please.”

Monsieur L’Horloge poured two small glasses of a pale blue liqueur and handed one to Frau Schlüsselherrin. They clinked glasses and looked each other straight in the eyes. The diagram floated upwards to join its siblings bobbing at the ceiling.

“I really wish we could examine the device.”

“That would be very risky.”

“True, but still…”

“I know, I know.”

“It is safe?” she asked.

“Extremely so.”

“And you don’t know where it is?”

“I do not.”

“And the young woman who inherited this sack of trouble?”

“She is also hidden.”

“And you don’t know where?”

“It seemed prudent.”

“I understand, but…”

“Yes, it is frustrating.”

The key mistress sat down and threw back her schnapps and shuddered. It burned with an aftertaste that made her recall playing in the snow as a child. The clock maker pulled some of the diagrams down and overlaid them in a variety of patterns but none of the combinations satisfied him. He then sat and sipped his drink.

“I don’t think we can do this,” he said.

“We don’t have all the pieces,” she replied.

“No.”

“But getting them would be dangerous.”

“For many, many reasons.”

“Still…”

“I know.”

Frau Schlüsselherrin got up and poured herself another while Monsieur L’Horloge continued to slowly sip. They sat there, each mulling over their options. The workshop behind the key store was filled with mélange of silence and deep thought with a strong undercurrent of frustration.

Getting up to stretch, the clock maker cracked his neck and heard something out of the corner of his ear. A faint tap, tap, tapping. He closed his eyes and listened. It came from… Left and up. Turning toward that direction, after opening his eyes, he saw a shadow at the window.

He looked at Frau Schlüsselherrin, held his finger to his mouth and moved to the window. She picked up a heavy, cold iron tool and stood ready to act. With a quick movement, he opened the casement and something flew in.

“Wait!” he cried.

She lowered her improvised mace as the winged serpent, made of paper landed on the back of Monsieur L’Horloge’s hand. He unfolded it with his quick and narrow fingers and read it out loud.

Drágám ,

Something odd has happened. This may mean nothing but as my nagymama would say, measure twice, cut once. A grad student came into the library requesting The Folio of Mechanical Fabrication. It is well outside his thesis and there was something about him that is… Odd. Likely this is nothing, I hope it is, if so then go on with your work. But I did wish you to know.

Szeretet,

Zsófia”

Grabbing his greatcoat he said, “Come with me.” They rushed out of the store and through the crowds to the Velo-pede stand, leaping into first empty one.

“Thirteen West Rue du temps,” he barked to the driver, “Ten silver notions if you get there in five minutes!”

After a harrowing ride through bewildering path of side streets, alleys, stairways, and one extremely narrow bridge, they arrived at Monsieur L’Horloge’s residence. If there were more time, the key mistress might have admired the intricate stained glass and brass work on the front of the narrow town house, as well as the fact that the street resembled a row of books but as time was at a premium, they dashed in.

On the second floor, in his study, The Folio of Mechanical Fabrication lay undisturbed in it’s steel and crystal case. However, the body that lay in front of it was most assuredly dead.

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Bread And Wine

Mistress Rosamund lit the last candle at the rim of the salt circle on which sat a plate of fresh bread and an open bottle of wine. Taking a step back, she rang the tiny silver bell thrice. The dead have a much different perception of time so she left orders not to be disturbed but that’s why she brought a chair.

Time passed, she didn’t look at her chronoton, doing so would not help, but she did go through more than a few cigarettes. She noticed that the smoke was being drawn over the bread and wine. Then a vague figure began to form as the temperature dropped.

“What do you wish from beyond the veil mortal?” whispered the vapor, “The spirits are not to be summoned lightly!”

“Cut the malarkey Etitan, if I wanted a show, I’d go to the Odéon.”

The figure became more defined, it was now a small, bookish looking man, balding and bespectacled, though still made of smoke.

“You used to be more fun,” said Etitan, “It seems as though you’ve lost your love of pageantry.”

“Do you see an audience?”

“Sadly no.”

“I’ve got a few questions for ya, ifffin ya don’t object?”

Etitan glances at the bread and wine and asked, “For me?”

“Who else?”

As quickly as a thought, he enveloped the offering, and it was as swiftly drained of color.

“You ought to slow down, you’re liable to choke.”

“Very droll.”

“Are you ready?”

“Of course.”

“I had group of roughnecks break into my establishment and I was wondering if you knew anything about that.”

Etitan shuddered. It reminded Rosamund of a gaslight buffeted by the wind.

“I’m sorry, I cannot help you.”

“Excuse me?”

“Break the circle and release me, please.”

“No, not till you tell me what’s going on.”

“RELEASE ME NOW!”

She could feel the power of his shout. Goosebumps sprang up across her entire body and she was suddenly covered in an icy sweat. As her heart beat like jazz drummer’s solo, she forced herself to slow her breaths and while not exactly relaxed, keep her composure.

“That was a low down dirty trick, amigo.”

“Just set me free, I beg you.”
Rosamund struck a match on her fingernails and lit another cigarette. She took a deep drag and exhaled.

“What’s got you all flummoxed?”

“I cannot say.”

“Then I reckon you’ll be staying here for a spell.”

“You’re breaking the covenant!” shrieked the spirit.

“To my way of thinking, you’re the only one doing any breakin’. You took the offering and haven’t given me one bit of information.”

“I’ve given you the best advice I can, leave it alone. Please.”

She continued to smoke as she got up and walked around the binding circle.

“You’re already dead, meanin’ no disrespect, so it’s not like you can get killed again.”

Etitan did not reply but he spun slowly with her.

“So what scares a ghost? Stimulating question to my way of thinkin’, don’t you agree?”

She looked him straight in the eyes but he said nothing

“So, you wanna be a tough guy, fine with me. I have a bar to finish cleaning up. I’ll look in on ya in a while. Can’t really say how long that might be, but you’ve got all the time in the world. Adios.”

With that she turned for the door and went upstairs to her bar. She hadn’t been fibbing, the place still needed cleaning. So she and Mr. Twig began to clear out the broken furniture. Soon, more staff showed up, putting things back where they should be. With that, the place was ready for the midnight crowd.

Business was brisk, she hadn’t told anyone about the fight so naturally everyone knew. Gossip flowed out of mouths as were cocktails inhaled. It was a very good night. Mistress Rosamund was so busy, she completely forgot about Etitan. It would become a regret.

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In the Stacks

Zsófia slid through the stacks, her arms filled with books. Returning them to their correct and proper place was like a meditation for her. Once the last one was placed, she stopped and listened to the faint scritching of note taking.

She returned to her front desk and began filling out forms, there were always forms but she also took pleasure in completing them. For those who knew her in a purely social way, would be flabbergasted to see her in this context.

The Zsófia they knew was not someone who gently and thoroughly returned books to shelves or completed paperwork with clear and legible handwriting. Their Zsófia drank and danced till the sun groggily rose in the sky. It might not make sense, but remember, no one is all one thing.

Completing one stack of supplication documents and sealing them in the correctly colored envelope (pale jade) she was about to delve into some overdue notices when she heard the gentle clearing of a throat.

Standing in front of her desk was Personne the graduate student, in all his forgettable glory. Zsófia took a special pride in knowing the names of faculty and students who came in but it took more than a few visits for her to remember him. Eventually, she recognized the small brass pin attached to his lapel. It looked like a floret but she did not recognize the type, which seemed apropos. However, it did allow her to identify him even if the rest of him was unmemorable.

“Good afternoon Monsieur Personne, what can I do for you today?” she asked quietly.

“Mademoiselle, I need several books pulled, if it is not too much trouble.”

He handed her his list. Most were historical accounts, dry reading even for scholars, but there was one that gave her pause.

“The Folio of Mechanical Fabrication? Have you changed your thesis Monsieur?

He shook his head, “No, but I believe that it might contain something that could aid my research.”

Zsófia did not usually care what was checked out in the library as long as it was returned in good condition and on time. Academics sometimes branched out their inquiries into seemingly unrelated areas, but Personne did not do that. Until now that is. There was one other wrinkle in this, L’Horloge owned a copy and had paid dearly for it. Something about this smelled off, like cold iron and hot oil.

“I’ll be back momentarily,” she said with a smile.

Of course the historical accounts were shelved and available, they were written by little known figures about even more obscure events. Easily done. As for the Folio, it was sitting on a shelf in the protected section and there was no rational reason to deny this unusual request. Still…

She returned to her desk with the dull tomes of forgotten history but not the Folio.

“Apologies Monsieur, but the Folio is not available at this time.”

Taking the other books under his arm, Personne asked, “Do you know who has it out?”

“I’m afraid that it’s being restored, it is after all, quite old.”

“Indeed. Do you know when that will be done?”

“I couldn’t say, but such work must be very meticulous and cannot be rushed.”

“Very well, merci Mademoiselle, these will have to suffice for now.”

He turned and began to walk away but slowed and turned back.

“Can you inform me when it is back in circulation?”

“Of course Monsieur, I will make a note so I should not forget.”

“Once more, merci.”

And with that, he disappeared into the stacks. Zsófia found her heart was racing. It felt as though she had avoided something sinister, though not forever. Taking pen to paper she wrote a note to L’Horloge, asking to meet him later. Folding the missive into a winged serpent, it flew off and out a high window.

It did not go unnoticed.

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