Les Requêtes was full of people looking to forget their troubles and enjoy themselves. A foursome of dandies, their clothes shifting through the invisible spectrum all drank from a bowl of smoking liquid using silk straws. A jazz band was playing from an alcove and someone had cleared a small dance floor so the enthusiastic could cut a rug. Almost everyone was having a good time.
At the end of the serpentine bar sat Detective Durand. She nursed the cocktail before her, it was very good, but not the reason she was here. Scanning the crowd, she saw a familiar face.
A lean man in a dark purple velvet coat turned and smiled at her. Pushing his way through the crowd, he arrived and embraced her.
“What a surprise to see you Detective!”
“And you Professor.”
“This place seems much too loud for you.”
“It is, I’m here on business.”
“Of course. Still with the F.I.S.?”
“Where else would I be? Are you still with the Imaginary Academy?”
“Toiling in obscurity,” he looked around and leaned in whispering, “Is there a rogue spirit about?”
“No, no. I’m here to speak with the owner about a case I’m working.”
“Is that so?”
“In what way Professor?” Durand asked as she signaled for the bartender.
“It isn’t my place.”
“May I buy you a cocktail?”
“Not at all, you’ve been helpful to me in my investigations.”
“If you insist,” replied Gérin, “I’ll have a pale vesper, with a twist of blood lime.”
The bartender went to construct the drink.
“So, what brings you down to the subterranean bar scene?”
“The owner, Mistress Rosamund, she used to be spirit wrangler and I must admit, I was something of an admirer of hers.”
“Not like that, though she is a fetching woman. Her act had this… quality. It was rough and raw but still somehow polished. You felt the rush of danger that dealing with the dead can bring you. It was something to see.”
“I can only imagine.”
“We moved in the same circles back then and even though she’s retired from the stage, we’ve kept in touch.”
A glass of faint bubbling liquor with a green and ruby rind on the rim was placed in front of Gérin.
“To old friends,” said Durand.
Glasses were clinked and eyes met, so to avoid bad fortune.
“May I ask you a question?”
“Of course! As long as it not too personal,” said Gérin with an impish grin.
“Have you ever heard of a metal that repels ghosts?”
“No metal that I know of can do that. Except…”
“It’s just rumors and hearsay.”
“Do go on Professor.”
“There is nothing to back this up, but there is an old story about an alloy called ierósium, that was supposed to be a ward against the undead.”
“Has any ever been found?”
“I should say not. Texts say that it was a mixture of cold and meteoric iron, the tears of the desert, heated by the midnight sun, and forged by a living saint. “
“So difficult to make.”
“I’d say impossible. There hasn’t been a living saint in the Arrondissement
for centuries. As of the other ingredients,” he just shrugged,
“There are wonders to be found in the Arrondissement, why not this?”
“Because outside of ancient accounts, no one has ever seen this wondrous metal. Sometimes stories are just that.”
They both drank as the merriment of the bar swirled around them.
“Why did you ask?”
“Ierósium. It’s a rather obscure bit of legend.”
“Just a theory I was working on, but the truth lies elsewhere.”
“You are my first choice to consult, of course.”
“I like to think I am of assistance.”
“And you are but I will need to get approval for any outside consultation.”
A throat was cleared nearby and Durand frowned for a beat.
“I understand. But I’ll always be a bird fold away.”
“Thank you professor. If you’ll excuse me, duty calls.”
They air-kissed cheeks and Durand moved through the crowd.
“He certainly likes himself,” said Nikita who floated unseen alongside her.
“Professor Gérin is a leading expert on the undead and knows a great deal on the subject. He is also rather pompous but if you can get past that, he is a decent person.”
“If you want to follow in my line of work, you better get used to dealing with all sorts. Solving crime is not like putting together a dinner party.”
“I get it!”
“Good. Now prepare for some more education.”
Durand knocked on the door of Mistress Rosamund’s office.
The bar owner was sitting at her desk, reading an old book when they entered. She quickly shut it and threw it in a drawer at the sight of Durand.
“Detective, tell your friend to show them self.”
“Nikita if you don’t mind.”
She faded into view.
“You wouldn’t be spyin’ on me, would you?”
“No. As you demonstrated, sending a ghost to watch you would be a waste of time.”
“Uh huh. What is it you want?”
“To tell you that you are no longer a suspect in the disappearance of Etitan Chardin.”
“Finally figured that out, didja?”
“The large numbers of missing spirits indicates some great power at work,” Durand replied as she tapped on a newspaper that lay on the desk. The headline read, “Where Are Our Ghosts!”
“As you well know,” added the detective.
The two women stared at each other.
“Is that all? I’m running a busy establishment.”
“Not quite. First, while you are no longer under investigation I know that you are hiding something.”
“I’d like to see you prove it.”
“That would be fun, but I’ve a better idea.”
“Getting out of my hair?”
“No, I wish to hire you.”
“I have to agree. What?” added Nikita.
“You are a talented spirit wrangler a skill that will be useful in my investigation.”
“Why would I want to work with the likes of you?”
“Several reasons. One, you will be compensated for your time and skill. Two, you will have the gratitude of the Gendarmerie. And finally, you care about what is going on.”
“What makes you reckon I care.”
“You consulted with Professor Gérin, a leading expert on the spirit world, I saw him out in the bar, your desk is covered with articles about ghost disappearance, and the book you hid as we came in, the Therimoire of Saint Januarius.”
“You got some sharp eyes there.”
Mistress Rosamund sat and stared at Durand. Nikita felt awkward, which she hadn’t happened since she became a ghost. Something was going to happen…
“Fine, I’m in.”
“I and the spirit world thank you.”
“Let’s shake on it,” said Mistress Rosamund who spat on her hand and extended it.
Durand followed suit and they shook hands.
“Now iffin you don’t mind, I’ve got a bar full of drunks to keep happy.”
“I’ll contact you soon,” said Durand.
Both women nodded and the detective and ghost left the office.
“How does that work? How do you get into and out of trouble like that? Like when trapped at that building-”
“A big part of this job is reading people.”
Durand cleaned her hand with a pocket square.
“You are so good at that.”
“Can you teach me to do that?”
“Let’s find out.”