The crowds on the Rue de l’artisanat moved with a purposeful grace. To anyone on the street, it seemed chaotic, an endless series of near collisions with a generous portion of shouting. However, if you watched it from above, it resembled a dance, each individual taking part an intricate choreography. A ginger tabby observed it all from a window, taking note of all that went on.
Each shop displayed their wares, inside-out bottles, cloth woven from a child’s dream (the best night’s sleep, guaranteed!), glamour in creams, powders and sprays, in short, anything you might need or want could be found, including chronotons, though none as fine as those made by Monsieur L’Horloge.
Zsófia weaved through the throngs, with ease, she grew up on a street much like this one and she fell into the rhythms without a thought. While her own address was of a more elegant nature, it is impossible to forget where you came from. Unless you procured the services of an Oublier Maître, but that was only the truly desperate.
She arrived at Frau Schlüsselherrin’s shop, it’s windows filled with keys of every description. From heavy iron ones that looked as though they could be used to lock up a dungeon door, to slim silver keys, topped with filigree and enamel that resembled a cathedral’s stained glass. They were made of brass, copper, wood, glass, even a few made of carved bone and a lone key of ice, mist rose off it and the case was rimmed with frost. Zsófia entered and the ginger tabby twitched his whiskers.
Opening the door caused the keys hanging from the ceiling to sway and strike each other with a serene sound. Zsófia moved up to the counter and rang the bell. There was a pause, then a series of clicks, clacks and thunks and behind the counter a low door opened. Frau Schlüsselherrin emerged, dressed in canvas coveralls over which she wore a leather apron stained with grease, cinched with a thick belt that held a panoply of tool, her short hair so pale that it was impossible to know her age.
“Zsófia! What brings to my shop? Are the shadows misbehaving?”
“They remain as tenebrous as ever.”
“I’m happy to hear that. So what brings you to my shop?”
Zsófia shrugged and said, “Purely social, it seems like ages since we had a visit.”
“Come in the back and I’ll make some kaffee and we’ll catch up.”
The back room functioned as workshop, office and living space. While Frau Schlüsselherrin could certainly afford to live in more a luxurious manner, she was not fond of entertaining and the room seconded that position. Those few she called friends were the sort who did not judge how she lived. As a result, her circle of friends was rather small but insured that they were indeed her friends.
Two mismatched arm chairs, one with a fractal pattern and the other carved from a rich amber sat on either side of a jagged slab of dark metal that served as a coffee table. Zsófia took the heavy ceramic mug and inhaled the aroma of the kaffee as Frau Schlüsselherrin placed a cardboard box of sweets between them.
“So, you seem to be doing well.”
“Business is well, people do have a bad habit of losing their keys,” remarked Frau Schlüsselherrin, “Though I won’t complain.”
“These pâtisseries are wonderful, where did you get them?”
“Aren’t they though? There’s a new place that opened up two blocks over, they have a clockwork chef.”
“Really? I’ve always found clockwork cooking to be, well, adequate at best.”
“Until now I’d agree with you. But this one is gifted.”
“Remarkable!” she said, taking another bite.
“I heard a rumor that this one has a soul,” said Frau Schlüsselherrin with a smile.
“Ridiculous? Professor Ichikawa proclaimed it was impossible!”
The key maker smiled.
“You’re just teasing me.”
“I’m no theological engineer, but it’s just a rumor I’ve heard.”
Each of them ate the delicious confections in companionable silence for a while. Zsófia looked at the box, which was printed “Transcendent bites, 1/8th Rue de rêve” in a vivid purple script. She made a psychic note to visit them very soon. As pleasant as kaffee and sweets were, Zsófia knew she must make her plea.
“I had drinks with Monsieur L’Horloge the other night,” she said as casually as she could, which incidentally was extremely so.
“It is your time to waste,” said her friend.
“You know how I feel about him,” said Zsófia.
“In fact, your name came up.”
“Did he have more snide remarks?”
“No, in fact, he desires to consult with you.”
“Do not mock me!” spat Frau Schlüsselherrin, who stood suddenly, causing her own mug to spill on the table.
“Have I ever derided you? Played petty tricks?”
“Nein,” she said and sat once more.
“Please understand that it pains me to have you two quarrel.”
“I know but-“
“So I have excellent news!”
The key maker fixed her with a cautious gaze.
“What are these glad tidings?”
“As I said, I had drinks with Monsieur L’Horloge. He is confronted with a problem. One that he cannot solve himself.”
“Did he say so, in those exact words?”
There was a gleeful tone to her voice.
“He asked me, pleaded in fact, to speak to you on his behalf.”
“Why not do it himself?”
“Would you even let him enter your store?”
Frau Schlüsselherrin was about to protest but had to concede the point, “That is not, unfair,” she relented.
“I would ask to at least to meet with him, hear what he has to say.”
“You ask much.”
“If you would perhaps, consider it.”
The key maker drank the rest of her kaffee then went to the pot and refilled her cup. Zsófia said nothing but nibbled on the sweets. They were very, very good. Frau Schlüsselherrin stomped back to her chair, sat and stared her friend in the eyes.
“For you, I will.”
“Were it anyone else-“
“I’m very appreciative.”
“As you should be.”
“And one more wrinkle to ponder. In spite of your feud, you were the only person that the great Monsieur L’Horloge thought of to help him.”
That settled in the room with a surprising amount of comfort.
“Do you mind if I have the last patisserie?” asked Zsófia, “They are impossible to resist!”