Files and papers spread across his desk with abandon, each presenting questions with no answers. Sergeant Gendarme Arpin rubbed his eyes and sighed. This was a true mystery, complete with arcane machinations, baffling and unconnected clues, and even a secret society.
Solving this would be the grandest triumph of his career if he could do so. Unfortunately, none of it made sense, the only motive was perhaps secrecy itself, but that is not inherently a crime. He sniffed his café, it had gone cold and bitter. He took out a cigarette and lit it.
“Those are bad for your health.”
Sitting across from his desk was an older man. He had not been there a moment ago and he was spectacularly unassuming. If you passed him on the street you would not give him a second glance, let alone a first. On his lapel was a familiar pin.
“So I’ve been told.”
“You really ought to quit.”
“I appreciate the concern but that is not why you are here.”
“No, it is not.”
Arpin put out the cigarette and took a deep inhale. This man did not smell of fear.
“You’re either brave or foolish.”
“Why is that?”
“You are sitting amongst a large group of Gendarmes who would happily throw you in a cell and question you most vigorously.”
“Sergeant Gendarme Arpin, you will do no such thing.”
“Is that a threat?”
“Let’s call it a prediction.”
“Your man Jules Thibault was less than polite, so you’ll understand my suspicion.”
“It’s reasonable. If it makes any difference, he’s inexperienced.”
“It does not.”
“So, why come here to talk to me?”
“We need you to do something for us.”
They both sat there, the sounds of the Gendarmerie continued unaware.
“It is a small thing,” said the man.
Arpin’s whiskers quivered.
“As a Gendarme, I make it a habit of not aiding and abetting criminal organizations. A point of professional pride.”
“We are not criminals.”
Opening files, Arpin said, “Assault and robbery of a Gendarme, resisting arrest, theft of a regulated article of clothing, breaking and entering and of course the incident at the Tribunal de Justice. Oh and lest we forget illegal and immoral arcane experimentation. ”
“I assure you, there are valid reasons for all of that.”
“So you’ve come to confess?” said Arpin taking out a form, “Would you care to write that down, in your own words.”
“The price for capturing me would be higher than you would be willing to pay.”
“Again, it feels like a threat.”
“I think your curiosity will win out.”
Arpin played with his cigarette case and fought the urge to light up.
“Let us say, hypothetically, that my inquisitive nature wins out.”
“Yes. What do I have to gain?”
“I will grant you one boon, and it cannot be refused.”
“If it is within my power, yes.”
“And if I asked you to turn yourself in?”
He held out his wrists and said, “I would come quietly.”
“That seems too easy.”
“One piece would be removed from the board but the game would continue.”
“I suppose it would. And I asked you to dissolve your secret society?”
“You wouldn’t want me to do that.”
“Things would become…unpleasant.”
“How vaguely sinister.”
The man shrugged and asked, “Is that the boon you desire?”
“Tempting, but no. For now.”
“Sharp as ever.”
“Because you intrigue me.”
“Are you trying to recruit me?”
“No, I’m afraid you don’t quite fit the profile.”
“By our standards.”
“Again, why me?”
“I admire you. You are dedicated, methodical, intelligent, and violence is not your first impulse. Also, I believe that if you give your word, you will keep it.”
“That’s quite a leap of faith.”
“Great deeds are not done by the timid.”
“And how can I know that you will keep your word?”
“You will have to make your own leap of faith.”
The old man smelled calm, his scent reminded him of still waters.
“I’ve not agreed to do anything, but what exactly do you want me to do?”
“To deliver a message.”
“Can’t you fold a decent bird?”
“This needs to be hand-delivered by someone who is trusted.”
“So I’ve earned your trust?”
“Not my trust, the recipients.”
“This is becoming more byzantine by the moment.”
“Sergeant Gendarme Arpin, there are three outcomes to this conversation. One, you try to arrest me. You might even succeed but I assure you, there will be deaths. Two, we both go our separate ways and this door closes. Three, you agree and gain a valuable tool.”
“If you have observed me as you say you have, you should know that I will not violate my oath as a Gendarme.”
“And I am not asking you to do so.”
“Let’s not waste everyone’s valuable time. If you go to your captain’s office, she will give you an envelope. Read the address and decide if you will do this small favor. And to answer your next question, your captain is not one of us, nor is she compromised, and neither is the person who asked her to present you with this choice. What does my scent tell you?”
Still calm waters.
“I will see what the address is, I will not promise more.”
Arpin stood up and moved to the captain’s office. Looking over his shoulder, he saw that the older man was gone. Frustrating but not surprising. He knocked on the captain’s door.”
Captain Cordier opened a desk drawer, took out a letter, and handed it to him. Arpin read the address. Then once more.