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.”
“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.