I Have No Idea

“Two cafés.”

Sergeant Arpin stood with Detective Durand at the street vendor near the Gendarmerie. The rich aroma of ground beans and the hiss of boiling water fought against the hurly-burly of the Arrondissement.

“How goes your missing ghost case?” he asked.

She watched the preparation and sighed.

“That well.”

“It has become more complicated.”

“How so?”

Before she could answer, their cafés were handed to them and then she walked, in no particular hurry. Arpin followed and sipped his café, very good. When arrived at the front entrance two Chevaliers stood at either side of the door. One was clad in armor made from what looked like sun-baked dirt, the other in plates of hammered silk.

“Follow me,” she said.

They walked along hallways, past offices and interrogation rooms till they came to a small cage lift. It took them to the top floor that was occupied by a small army of broken desks and chairs that sat in wait for the paperwork that would allow them to be disposed of. After making their way through this maze built by bureaucratic ennui, they climbed a wrought iron stairway and on to the roof.

Arpin sipped his café and waited for Durand to speak. Off in the distance, the Wandering Woman, its cables beckoning the bold, sailed its unpredictable course above the Arrondissement. A murmur of people and traffic could be heard under the wind. It felt peaceful, for the moment.

“Half.”

“Pardon?”

“Half the ghosts have vanished.”

“Do you know where they’ve gone?”

“I do not.”

“How it happened?”

“No.”

“Or why?”

“Again, not at all.”

“Very strange.”

“Strange things happen in the Arrondissement every day, but this…”

“What did the Captain say?”

“She was occupied by your case, the Spider Gang, or whatever the papers are calling them. That and her resentment of the Chevaliers in the Gendarmerie.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault, but thank you.”

He shrugged.

“The living give little thought to the dead,” Durand stated.

“What do the ghosts say?” he asked.

“Ironically, they are terrified. Many of the spirits I’ve interviewed have told me that those who have disappeared have done so…painfully.”

“I didn’t know they could feel pain.”

“They can’t, not like the living. Their pain is more emotional. But from what I was told, it seemed to be physical.”

“And there is no explanation for this?”

“None, it should be impossible.”

“There seems to be a rash of impossibly of late.”

“No links between the victims?”

“Other than their state of undeath, none.”

“The Cure-dent de Déant grows centuries worth in a moment, an old man is given a second youth and the dead vanish in pain. The needle is skipping on the phonograph.”

Durand’s eyes went wide and she ran towards the stairs and Arpin followed. After navigating the broken furniture and a slow ride on the cage lift, they arrived at her office. It was located in the back of the Gendarmerie. A small room with two desks, file cabinets and one tiny, high placed window, it was clear to Arpin that the living were unconcerned with the dead, at least in the policing of them.

Pulling out files from the drawers, she laid out two articles, one about the Jardin des Gens and the other detailing the miracle of Willem Molyneux. She looked at Arpin and smiled.

“What do these two incidents have in common?”

“They both took place in the Jardin des Gens.”

“Yes! But what else?”

“Time has-“

“Look at the time,” she said.

Arpin read each article and saw that both listed the events as happening simultaneously.

“And your ghostly disappearances?”

Durand pulled out her notebook, in which written the same time as the two other events.

“What is the connection?”

She smiled and said, “I have no idea. Let’s find out.”

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

Doors and Discovery

Arcane art was never really Olivia’s favorite style, it always made her think of the Oil Paint Wars, which in turn, made her sad. Her grandmother was still fighting, at least as far as she knew. But she had to admit, this exhibition was intriguing.

Doors, each one leading to a different room. Not especially magical, after all, that is what any ordinary door did. However, these doors opened into rooms that did not exist, according to the pamphlet handed to her at the entrance.

A heavy brass door with an elaborate bas-relief of an ancient feast opened into an overgrown garden at dusk. The wrought iron gate in that garden lead to an orange marble cathedral filled with faint atonal chanting. A wooden hatch at the base of the altar revealed what could only be described as a reverse aquarium, a glass chamber where those who walked through were viewed by a parade of aquatic life.

Olivia wandered for a while, she especially loved the night sky room, not because of the panoply of stars, but for the softness of the floor which made her feel as though her feet were being hugged. But eventually, she found her way to the reception hall.

There, artists, aficionado, critics and collectors all mingled and drank and of course, gossiped. Taking a glass of some sparkling drink from a tray that passed by on a tiny cloud, she moved around the room, dipping into conversations but never for too long.

While she was not dressed as flamboyantly as some of the other attendees (she owned no clothes comprised of scarabs that changed colors or woven smoke) but she wore a black dress, black stockings, heeled silver boots and a short red bellhop’s jacket. It made her look like a young artist.

“Impressive, is it not?”

Olivia turned to see a tall woman of indeterminate age dressed in a suit comprised entirely of tiny trees. She plucked a hors d’oeuvre from a passing tray and the sound of rustling leaves could be faintly heard.

“Very,” replied Olivia.

“Have we met? There’s something about you…” asked the foliage-clad woman.

“I have one of those faces.”

“That must be quite useful.”

Olivia shrugged.

“I’m Madame L’ Écorce, a pleasure,” she said holding out her hand.

“Olivia Chercheur, charmed.”

“Are you an artist as well? Or just a lover of art?”

“I am an artist, a struggling one right now.”

“Delightful! I think that many times that adversity produces the best work from an artist.”

“Is that from personal experience?” asked Olivia.

“Oh no! I lack the spark for making art, much to my regret. But I live to encourage artists. And I have a modest collection of rare pieces.”

“Just a few?”

Madame L’ Écorce laughed. Olivia and others in their orbit were quickly infected and joined in.

“Touché, I’m fortunate to have acquired a healthy assembly of art. I’m always on the lookout for more. What medium do you work in?”

Olivia was prepared for this.

“I work in discovery,” she said.

It was vague and just pretentious enough.

“I’ve never heard of that! Can you describe it?”

“I really can’t,” Olivia remarked.

“Intriguing. You must tell me when you have a showing.”

“Absolutely.”

Madame L’ Écorce then introduced her to many people who might be very useful had she been an actual artist. She collected many cards from gallery owners, (one of whom had an exhibition inside his steel cigarette case) collectors and even from one actress who seemed very taken with her, despite or perhaps because she was polite but uninterested.

While everyone was extremely charming, their interest in her seemed ephemeral, ready to dissipate when something newer and more shiny appeared. For someone who was used to finding things, it felt rather sad. She excused herself and went to the lavatory.

It was set up to look decrepit, chipped paint, water stains, and mismatched tile-work, though, on a second look, Olivia decided that it was a just poorly maintained lavatory. Once she was done and was checking her hair in the cracked mirror above the sinks, the door opened and a young woman entered.

She was dressed in a loose-fitting dress of soft brown fabric, with flat shoes. The overall effect was that of coziness like she was going to host a casual dinner party for old friends. Olivia was about to leave but she saw the one piece of jewelry this woman wore. A long brass chain at the end of which hung a key. The key.

“I love your-“

“Please don’t say my art or I’ll scream,” snapped the young woman.

“Your dress.”

She smiled and said, “Thank you, I just wanted to be comfortable.”

“Success then. I’m Olivia.”

“Renée,” she said. “I’m sorry for before, it’s just-“

“No worries, I imagine being the center of all that attention must be exhausting.”

“It sounds ungrateful but it is.”

“Can’t you just slip out the back?’

“What time is it?”

Olivia looked at her chronoton, it was seven thirty-six.

“Not yet, it’s unfashionable to leave one’s showing this early.”

“Wouldn’t it just make you seem more mysterious?”

Renée considered this for a beat.

“No, I need to have a few more successful shows before I can be that whimsical.”

They both laughed.

“I don’t suppose I can hide here all night,” said Renée.

“Price of success?”

Renée ran her fingers through her hair and sighed.

“Back into the fray.”

“Where did you get that pendant?”

“This? It’s just something I picked up at a junk shop and put on a chain.”

“I’ve been looking for something just like it.”

“You have?”

“I know it sounds odd.”

“It does.”

“Is there anything I could offer you for it?”

“I only paid a few concepts for it.”

“What would you like?”

Renée smiled.

For the rest of the opening, she was by Renée’s side. The main part of her duties was defecting people the young artist wished to avoid. While that part was remarkably easy, all it involved as a whisper in her ear and an apology promising to talk to the person later, which of course, never happened. She also wished she’d worn flats, heeled boots looked stylish but were hell on her feet.

At precisely ten oh seven, Renée was allowed to make her escape. With Olivia at her side, she exited the gallery through a side door that had looked like a table leaning against the wall and on to the street. They hailed a Velo-ped and ended up in a bar that involved another ride, this time on the Metro and elaborate walk through the catacombs that ended at a bar called Les Requêtes.

It was a lively place with an eclectic clientele. The bartender, a handsome woman with colorless hair served them drinks. Luckily, they found a small table in the back.

“Well,” said Renée, “a deal is a deal.”

She took her chain and key and put it around Olivia’s neck. It felt intimate.

“It suits you,” said Renée.

Olivia blushed. Renée didn’t remark on it but smiled. They continued to drink and talk, growing ever closer until they closed the place. It was not the end.

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

Uncomfortably Safe

“Tell us what you know,” asked the Marshal of the Coterie du Honor.

Monsieur L’Horloge, dressed in his finest suit but with his hair still mussed, tapped his fingers on the enameled table. Each segment bore the sigil of a Chevalier, the one he sat at was gold violin bow over a vert saltire with a sable field. He knew that because he was told that when he first sat. It was the sigil of the Jeté Chevalier.

Iron lamps lit the weapons hung on the meeting room’s walls. Each was unique, some forged from metal, others carved from a variety of materials ranging from bright orange glass to what looked like jagged mahogany. There was even one that appeared to be nothing but a brass hilt but when the room fell silent the distant sound of wind was heard.

Sitting across from Monsieur L’Horloge was the Marshal. She was easily two meters tall with a bronze complexion and a shock of silver hair. Her armor was a scale mail comprised of tiny cresting waves, constantly crashing against an unseen coast. She was known, before assuming the leadership of the Coterie du Honor, as the Deathly Chevalier. It was possible they were not deliberately attempting to intimidate him but still…

“You need not fret,” said the Precise Chevalier who stood just to his left, “The Tower Cerulean is the safest place in all the Arrondissement.”

“And we have a common foe,” added the Marshal.

“Yes, of course,” he said.

“Would you like some water?” asked the Marshal.

“I’d prefer some wine,” he said with immediate regret.

“Afterward, I think. Let us think clearly in the present.”

“Yes, of course.”

A Page placed a crystal decanter of water and poured a goblet for Monsieur L’Horloge who gulped it down.

“Better?” asked the Marshal?

“Much better,” he lied.

“You told us how Mademoiselle Maxilline Couture brought you an item, an item you knew to be dangerous-“

“No, not exactly!” he blurted out.

The social temperature of the room dropped sharply.

“Pardon,” Monsieur L’Horloge added as quickly as he could, “But we don’t know if the item is dangerous.”

“Is it harmless?”

“That is also… Unclear.”

The Marshal regarded Monsieur L’Horloge with a look that was crafted to brook no-nonsense.

“Then what exactly is it and what does it do? Do not say that it is unclear.”

“It is unknown,” he said with an awkward smile.

“Do not try to be clever with me.”

Monsieur L’Horloge took another drink of water that he fervently wished it was wine or better still brandy and spoke.

“Unfortunately, very little is known about this item. It was thought to be, a myth.”

“But you have seen it?”

“Yes, I have.”

“But you know almost nothing about it.”

This was not a question.

“If you’ll allow me, I can give you a brief history of this machine.”

“Very well.”

“The father of my art form was The Huygens, he invented the first chronoton centuries ago. All the techniques of my guild were created by him, they may have been refined as time passed but, the basics have remained the same. In fact, the Grand Clock at the Imaginary Academy was built by him.”

The Marshal cleared her throat.

“Yes, well clocks were not all he made. He created some of the first automata and many other wonders. It would take hours to tell you all of his contributions, which you clearly don’t have, so I will just tell you about the item in question.

“It has become a legend, something he wrote about and even made rough diagrams of but until recently, I had thought it did not exist. No one knows what it does or how it works, other than it is related to time.”

“Is it an elaborate chronoton?”

“No, but it is intricate beyond measure, and a thing of beauty.”

“A well-crafted sword may be a work of art, but in skilled hands, it will spill blood.”

“I do not think it is a weapon, but it is dangerous because we do not know what it does.”

“What is it called?”

“The Penultimate Machine.”

“Do you know anything about it at all?”

“Only that it requires a key, that is what Frau Schlüsselherrin and I were working on.”

“You were unable to duplicate the key?”

“No, she could tell you more about the details-“

“I’m sure those can be discussed later. Do you have the Penultimate Machine in a safe location?”

“Very safe.”

“Tell me where and I will dispatch a Banner of Chevaliers to accompany you and you can bring it back to the Tower Cerulean.”

“If only it were that simple.”

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

Young At Heart

From the Arrondissement Courant

EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN
By Eloise Van der Linde
October 23rd, 394th Year of the Thrush

For those who frequent the paths of the Jardin des Gens in the afternoon, Willem Molyneux, 93, is a fixture on the benches near the Crescent Lake. This veteran of seven wars takes a constitutional every day, after his lunch to sit in the afternoon sun. He has a smile and a wave for everyone and is fond of a chat.

“I tell him about my children,” said Paulette Genest a vendor of exotic nutmeats, “He loves hearing about what they get up to.”

Quick with a compliment or a joke, Monsieur Molyneux is beloved by those who know him, he is also an excellent listener. Mademoiselle Soyer, 25, shared this story.

“I had just had my heartbroken, again. I was devastated and found myself just wandering through the Jardin des Gens. It had been a terrible day, I was weeping openly, I couldn’t control… But then I heard someone ask, ‘Would you like to tell me what is wrong?’ And sitting there is this dapper old gentleman, just sitting on a bench. I’m not sure why, but I sat on the bench with him and cried some more. When I got hold of myself, I told him what had happened and he would occasionally say ‘That must have been quite difficult for you”, or ‘I’m so sorry’ and after a while, I found that I felt better.”

But the story does not end there.

“He introduced me to my husband. I mean, to the man who became my husband. I came by one day and he was laughing with this young man. As soon as I saw him, that was that. Later, I asked Monsieur Molyneux if he knew that Emile and I would fall in love. He just shrugged and smiled.”

Not only a matchmaker, Monsieur Molyneux is also a finder of lost pets, a teller of stories (apparently never telling the same one twice) and an exceptional whistler. He’s has been called the Mayor of the Green by those who know and love him. While he will not accept or use that title, he does smile when people address him as such.

Normally, this would be the end of this story with a denouement of how the Arrondissement would be a better place if we were all bit more like Monsieur Molyneux. But this is not the end.

On October 19th, when the Cure-dent de Déant grew to an astounding height something else happened to Monsieur Molyneux. He got younger. No gentle readers, this is no misprint or a ruse. A ninety-three old man de-aged.

Impossible? Clearly not. There were several witnesses, who have all sworn that this is the truth. One such eyewitness, Claudette Peltier, 38, had this to say.

“His hair came in thicker and darker, his skin lost its wrinkles and he stood up taller and stronger. It was like a kino run in reverse. If I had not seen it, I would not believe it!”

Chirurgeons and civil authorities have confirmed that the strapping young man is Willem Molyneux. His finger patterns are the same and daguerreotypes of him in his prime, are identical. If this is a hoax, it is a flawless one.

Naturally, many people have flocked to the bench when this miraculum occurred. Gendarmes have cordoned off the area as dozens of elderly people have fallen into the Crescent Lake. As of yet, no one has enjoyed a similar reduction in age.

What could make a tree grow many years worth in the span of a minute or return someone to their youth? No scholars have been able to offer any explanation. While time travel is possible, it is heavily regulated by the Ministry of Chronology as well as requiring delicate and very expensive equipment. To say nothing of the fact that the time traveler does not get substantially younger or older as a result of such a trip.

Very curious.

As for Wilam Molyneux, when asked what he planned to do with his second youth, he replied, “Dancing, I’ve missed that terribly.”

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

Terrible Freedom

Frost crunched underfoot as she entered the room. Every part of the chamber was covered in a thin layer of ice. Mistress Rosamund drew her wrap closer to herself and regarded Etitan. He had grown gaunt, his eyes sunken and even his clothes seemed more ragged.

“So, you finally remembered I was here,” he whispered.

“I didn’t ferget.”

“Liar.”

“Why won’t you tell me about those fellas that busted up my joint? What’s got you so bothered?”

“Nothingness.”

“Nothing? That ain’t true, if it were we would not be having this palaver.”

“I said nothingness, not nothing!” Etitan hissed.

“Not sure I get your meaning.”

The spirit sighed and the room grew colder.

“I knew another ghost, Constança Garro. She was very lovely and playful. Always playing pranks, nothing malicious, more impish than anything else. One day, she sees this man who was as dull as can be, almost invisible. So she begins to play little pranks, untying his shoes, hiding his keys, buzzing his door in the middle of the night, that sort of thing.”

“And I’m guessin’ he did not think it was funny.”

“It wasn’t that, she told me that he didn’t react. Clearly annoyed but he never lost his temper. Which of course just made her want to push further and further. Then one day, she was gone.”

“She moved on?”

“No, just she disappeared.”

“Are you sure she-“

“YES! Spirits cannot die, we can be bound, obviously, or banished from a place, but we cannot die a second time.”

They both stood there for a while.

“So what happened?”

“I don’t know and I’m not proud of this but I don’t want to know.”

“Fine, are you saying that that fella your friend was haunting was with those who smashed up my joint?”

“I never saw him. But Constança told me he wore a pin on his lapel, it looked like a flower at first glance but there was a spider in the middle. Those thugs wore the same pin.”

“Did they see you?”

“Of course not! They are connected to her disappearance, I would not cross them.”

Mistress Rosamund found her hand in the pocket of her skirt, she had them tailored for her with multiple pockets, you could never have enough, and she ran her fingers over a cold metal object.

“What else can you tell me about them?” she asked.

“If they can make a spirit vanish, imagine what can they do to you?”

“And that’s all you know?”

“I don’t need to know anymore.”

“Fine then, I’ma gonna let you out,” she said

Etitan floated up straighter at this and regained some of his former appearance.

“And I am sorry for keeping you bound like I did.”

“Apology accepted!”

“But I hope we put this behind us.”

“Of course, water under bridges and so on!”

“No need for bringing John Law into the picture.”

“Wouldn’t think of it.”

“Swear by Saint Januarius.”

Etitan hovered straight, his appearance now pristine and held his hand upright.

“I swear by Saint Januarius, who watches the dead, that this matter is over and no vengeance will be sought.”

The room grew warmer and the frost began to melt.

“Well then, I break the circle and unbind you.”

With that, she scuffed the salt ring. Etitan sighed and flew towards the wall when they heard a distant sound, like the ringing of a large bell. There was a pause, then Etitan howled. Mistress Rosamund fell to her knees and covered her ears and although all she wished was to flee, the shriek rendered her stunned.

Etiran began to expand, like jam smeared over bread, not evenly and not all at once. He glowed brighter as his features became more and more indistinct. Rapidly, he filled the small room and the screaming got higher and louder until Mistress Rosamund thought her head might explode. Just when she thought she could take no more, it stopped and the room went black.

She lay there, letting the silence and darkness cover her until she no longer trembled. It would be difficult to say how long it was, but eventually, she felt strong enough to get up. Striking a match, she looked around the room. All that was left was an open circle of salt and an empty wine bottle. Etitan was gone.

Taking a deep breath, she stood and went upstairs. Her clothes were covered in dust and she knew that she needed to make herself presentable for her customers. Pushing down what had just happened, she busied herself, changing clothes, washing her face, and so on.

In the looking glass, her hair, that morning a lustrous honey blonde, was now drained of color, like an achromatic fog.

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

Public Tête-à-Tête

Olivia was followed by cats all day long even though she was unaware of that fact. She was trying something new, looking for something without trying to. It was proving to be extraordinarily counter-intuitive. It felt like listening to music by covering her ears.

While she had found a pocketful of missing jewelry, three wallets and a set of spectacles, (and returned them, not being a thief) the one item she was looking for, a single key, eluded her. The advice given to her by that novice was not working quite as she hoped. It sounded very wise when she first heard it but theory was sweeter than practice.

Having spent the morning and part of the afternoon wandering the Arrondissement, hunger overtook her and she went to an automated restaurant. It was considered quite modern by some and critics of it felt the same. Each meal was prepared in an exacting manner with precise recipes. If you sat down for a bowl of vegetable soup today and came back one year later and ordered it again, it would taste exactly the same.

This outraged the culinary community from the top of haute to the greasiest of spoons. Protests arose and white tunicked kitchen worker marched in front of this affront to food. Of course this only increased people’s curiosity. That coupled with the fact that many restaurants were closed due to protest related staff shortages, insured that the protests were short lived.

Olivia had to admit that she was curious, and that fact that she could get a meal prepared almost immediately sealed the deal.

There was a queue as you entered that moved through a brass maze, until you came to a large panel with menu, complete with illustrations. You pulled knobs for you selection and then threw a lever. While walking to the cashier, you passed by a large window that showed your meal being prepared by an enormous and intricate machine.

She could not get a real sense of the shape of this automated chef. No, not chef, cook perhaps? It was a tangle of pots, pipes, grills, conveyer belts, spinning spoons, whirring knives, punctuated by gouts of flame and clouds of steam while juggling a parade of ingredients. Entertaining, if bewildering. Even so, when she arrived at the cashier, who was a living person, her croque monsieur and coffee with cream were awaiting her.

Taking her tray, she looked for an empty table. None where entirely so, but quickly she spotted one unoccupied chair in the back. After all finding things was what she did.

Moving quickly, she arrived at the table. Sitting with his back to the wall was a Renard reading a newspaper.

“Pardon Monsieur, is this seat claimed?” she asked.

Looking up, he said, “Only now by you mademoiselle.”

“Merci.”

Sitting, she cut a small piece of her sandwich, it was still hot (a good sign) and tasted… Fine. As she chewed, the word that came to her was adequate. The café near her home made a much better croque monsieur with deeper flavor and the edges were close to but never burnt.

“What do you think of the food mademoiselle?”

She looked up to see the Renard regarding her with curious eyes.

“Please pardon me, I don’t wish to intrude on your meal.”

“Not at all,” she said, “It is acceptable…”

The last word hung in the air, despite the clatter of cutlery on plate and the indistinct drone of dozens of conversations.

“And yet…”

“Not memorable.”

“Exactly. It is food, but it lacks-“

“Personality.”

“Well said!”

Extending her hand, she said, “My name is Olivia.”

“And I am Roland. A pleasure to meet you.”

“Likewise.”

“May I ask you something?”

“Certainly.”

“Why did you come here?”

“Curiosity. And you?”

“The same.”

“I guess my curiosity was satisfied better than my appetite.”

Roland’s whiskers twitched as he grinned.

“You found the perfect words.”

“That’s usually my cousin Hélène’s thing,” Olivia replied.

“Ah, you’re a finder then,” said Roland.

She shrugged.

“I am.”

“A remarkable gift.”

“Sometimes. My Aunt always falls in love with the wrong person.”

“Everyone has.”

“Not like her. I could tell you stories but they would ruin your appetite.”

“Please don’t, right now I have too little to spare. If you don’t mind me asking, what is your thing? Other than finding mediocre lunch,” he said with a smile.

She laughed, and said, “We both did that, but I’m very good a finding lost things.”

“Very useful.”

“Have you lost anything?”

“Any number of things but at moment I’m looking for answers to questions.”

“Are you a philosopher?”

“Only in way that all that think are, I’m actually a gendarme.”

“You may have missed your calling.”

“Perhaps, but like yourself, I deal with the here and now.”

“It’s all we have really.”

“You also have a metaphysical impulse.”

“I’ll say this, if we were both philosophers, we might not have been able to afford this very average lunch.”

“Quite true.

Roland looked at his chronoton and sighed.

“I’m afraid that duty calls. Thank you for making an ordinary meal enjoyable.”

“No, thank you, it was fun meeting you.”

As he pulled on his overcoat, he handed her a card.

“If you ever find yourself in need of aid, you can reach me here.”

“You never know,” she said pocketing the card.

“If we did, how dull would life be?”

With that, he said farewell. Olivia ate her sandwich with little enthusiasm. Roland had left his newspaper so she read that to pass the time. It was filled with the usual, crime, politics (not so different from crime), the Cure-dent de Déant still enlarged for reasons unknown, news from abroad, as well as art and theater reviews. Nothing really of note, until a daguerreotype caught her eye.

Sitting on a post box across the rue a calico narrowed her eyes.

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

Silence is a Vice

Uniformed gendarmes pushed and shoved a large group of people into the station’s lobby. The arrestees were all shackled together and made no secret of their displeasure. As it happens, the gendarmes were no less happy to escort this large and unruly group so there was a certain balance to this event.

“Madames and Monsieurs! If you did not wish to be bound by law, you should not have tried to climb Cure-dent de Déant!”

“But I didn’t climb very far at all!” declared one of the detained.

“That in no way makes it less of a crime,” replied the gendarme.

Gendarme Sergeant Arpin observed the contained chaos and then left for the quiet of the interrogation wing. Unpainted brick walls comprising the hallway were meagerly lit to inspire the telling of truth.

Arriving at room VIII, he knocked. The peephole slid open to reveal two sad brown eyes.

“Sergeant Arpin,” he said.

With that, locks were turned, bolts slid and the door opened. Seated and shackled to a small table was the young man who followed, assaulted, and tried to rob him. Arpin sat across from him and opened a folder. The uniform stood behind him.

“Good afternoon monsieur, I must apologize for not speaking to you sooner but life is often complicated, is it not?”

The prisoner said nothing. Looking at the folder’s contents, Arpin read for a moment.

“You are not a talkative fellow, I see that you have not indentified yourself, you carried no papers, and if you will forgive me, you have a face that is very easily overlooked. Neither handsome nor ugly, unremarkable in everyway.”

With a slight smile, the prisoner shrugged but still said nothing.

“Unfortunately, it seems we have no way of indentifying you. You have not asked for an advocate, or even offered any defense of your actions, not that there are any. It seems that you are bound for L’île de Oubliette.”

There was no response.

“However, fortune has favored us. You employed a Forget-Me-Coat, a rather expensive garment. Very useful to avoid detection but each one is registered with L’agence des Règles. Otherwise people could use it for less than scrupulous reasons. The one you used is owned by a Monsieur Henri Giteau, an import export merchant. He bought it to avoid being robbed when he traveled. He was very surprised to hear from us that it had been used in several crimes. I’m sorry, would you like a cigarette?”

While the prisoner did not respond, Arpin noticed that he smelled slightly nervous.

“No? Very wise, it is an unhealthy habit, I’ve tried to stop but I’m afraid that is a goal for another day. As I was saying, Monsieur Giteau was shocked to hear that his Forget-Me-Coat was used for criminal purposes. However after I assured him that he was in no way responsible, he was quite relieved as you might imagine, he and I discussed you. Apparently, he had hired you recently as a junior clerk in his warehouse, and your name is…”

Arpin once more checked the file.

“Jules Thibault, age twenty three. You worked for him for about a month. He described you as quiet and hard working. Too bad, sounds like you might’ve had a future there. He also provided us with your address, 864 Rue de L’orme, apartment nine. Of course we seached it.”

Putting his hand in his jacket pocket, Arpin produced a pin, identical to the one on the burgler of Monsieur L’Horloge’s home, though not charred.

“We found this quite easily, would you not agree Gendarme Vasseur?”

The uniformed gendarme who stood in the room nodded.

“Very easily Sergeant. It was hidden under loose board. Squeeked when I walked on it.”

“Thank you Vasseur. Under a squeeky floorboard, very sloppy. And what does this have to do with your assault upon my person? An excellent question. An identical pin was found on someone else involved with a very serious crime. I am compelled to inform you that you are now a person of interest in another investigation, it’s looking very grim.”

Silence and smoke hung in the room along with the distinct odor of anxiousness.

“Vasseur, do you know what I think?”

“That these two cases are related.”

“Indeed, well done! But there is something else.”

“And what is that Sergeant?”

“That young Thibault is part of something larger.”

“A criminal organization, like the Society of Shadows?”

“I believe so, though not one we have encountered before.”

“Very serious and worrying that is.”

Arpin took one last drag on his smoke and ground it out.

“I’d wager, and I am not one for gambling, is that Jules here is a cog in a much larger machine.”

“You would win that bet Sergeant.”

“Thank you Vasseur. He is a likely a disposable asset to his superiors. It is even more likely that he knows little or nothing of value.”

“Agreed.”

“It’s a shame though, he is soon to be very famous.”

The smell of panic filled the room.

“Really?” asked Vasseur.

“Oh yes, this is about to become a very spectacular case. Gendarme assaulted, a high profile break-in, secret societies, the public will gobble it up. Once the fourth estate is informed.”

With a surge Jules yanked his shackles and flung the table at Arpin, who was knocked to the floor. Vasseur leapt in and grappled him but Jules slammed the gendarme into the wall with a thud. Arpin, who was shaken but uninjured, jumped up and began to pummel the prisoner. He disliked doing this, but he had been given little choice.

Jules took his punches with quiet grunts but did not pass out. With an unnatural serenity, he slammed his forehead into Arpin’s and the back of his skull into Vasseur’s nose. Both gendarmes staggered and he ran towards the wall, head first.

If he had not been shackled to a table, Jules would’ve smashed his head open with mortal results. Fortunately or un, he tripped and merely knocked himself out cold. Arpin shook his head and went to the door to call for help.

The chirurgeon who examined Arpin, after treating Vasseur and the prisoner, told him that he was extremely lucky, having only suffered minor bruises. She advised that if he wanted to not suffer a headache, he should give up smoking, at least for the rest of the day. He tried.
#

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