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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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?”
“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?”
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.”