The Dead Do Not Pay Taxes-Arrondissement Part Forty-Two

“It can’t be done!” stated Mistress Rosamund.

“And yet it was.”

“Imma tellin’ you, while you can banish a spirit from a building-“

“Yes, I’ve witnessed more than a few,” interrupted Detective Durand.

“-Goody fer you. But that just prevents a ghost from haunting a particular building. It don’t make’em disappear.”

“Could a skilled spirit wrangler banish a large group of ghosts from an area?”

“Impossible! Specters don’t give up jest like that. They’ll fight you with everything they got. It’s hard enough to give one the boot, but a whole passel of them? Nope. Plus, from what you done told me, it’s an assortment of the undead, with no rhyme or reason to who disappeared.”

“Very true.”

“Seems to me that a clever detective mightah figured all that on her lonesome.”

“Oh, I did.”

Mistress Rosamund stared at the detective for a beat and then shouted, “Then why waste our time with fool questions!”

“Because I am not a spirit wrangler, I lack that gift. But my research indicates you are a talented one. I wondered if there were some trade secrets you might possess that could shed some light on this mystery.”

“Trying to trick me?”

“She does it to everybody,” said Nikita who hovered atop a file cabinet in the corner.

“People instinctively hide things from a detective which is understandable but it is my job to uncover those things.”

The two women stared at each other across the single neat desk in the small, one-room department of the Fantôme Investigation Squad.

“You coulda jest asked.”

“Noted.”

“This place is awful tiny.”

“The Gendarmery’s budget for this department is not as generous as I would like,” replied Detective Durand.

“Why is that?”

“I suspect because the dead do not pay taxes. Nikita, what do we know?”

The would-be Gendarme floated to the floor and began to speak.

“There has been a mass disappearance of ghosts. It’s likely more than was reported given that community’s proclivity for mystery and a general distrust for the living, no offense. No amount of spirit wrangling can account for said disappearances. There is no known way to destroy a ghost and but that has happened.”

“So we know nuttin’ then,” said Mistress Rosamund.

“We know what it can’t be. That is something.”

“So are we just going to start makin’ wild guesses?”

Detective Durand removed a bottle of dark liquor from a drawer, poured two glasses and passed one to Rosamund. They locked eyes and drank.

“Better?”

“Better. Is that in the Gendarme handbook?”

“More of an unspoken guideline.”

“Not a terrible custom.”

“Thank you.”

“But we’re still in the same spot with no directions.”

“What about the League of Spiders?”

“The what of what?” asked Mistress Rosamund.

Durand handed her a newspaper with the headline, LEAGUE OF SPIDERS FOES OF THE ARRONDISSEMENT?” It was accompanied by an illustration of the stylized spider.

“And what does have to do with the missing ghosts?” asked Mistress Rosamund.

“The Conclave of the Undeparted, an organization I’m sure you’re familiar with is terrified by that symbol.”

The barkeep did not reply though her shoulders slumped ever so slightly.

“Are you sure you don’t recognize that symbol?” asked Durand.

“I mighta seen it before.”

“On the ruffians who tore up your establishment?”

“I think you may be right.”

“Better late than never.”

“You gotta understand-“

“Let’s not dwell on that. The League, as the fourth estate has dubbed them, are dangerous. I’ve been working with Sergeant Gendarme Aprin on this case.”

“I remember him.”

“I’m sure he’ll be delighted.”

“Sounds a mite sarcastic.”

“We believe we’ve found their headquarters.”

Nikita cleared her throat despite the lack of actual breath.

“Apologies, Nikita here discovered it.”

“Merci.”

“Then why isn’t the place swarming with Gendarmes?”

“I suspect that if that were done, we might catch a few members but the rest would vanish and our hand would be revealed.”

“Yeah, I see yer point.”

“Additionally, there are very likely defenses that we are ignorant of.”

“Why don’t Nikita here reconnoiter the situation?”

“I did! I was lucky to get out.”

“The main floor was equipped with a Solomon Pit.”

“That’s a dangerous thing to just have laying about in yer lobby.”

“It is, but they have a permit, I looked it up, and it is technically legal.”

“But it shouldn’t be!” said Nikita, “That thing nearly swallowed me up.”

“That is a matter for the advocates. But the metal the stairway was also made of some sort of spirit repelling metal. Perhaps it was ierósium.”

“That’s hokum! No one’s ever found a scrap of that. How could they get enough to make a stairway!”

“An excellent question that I have no answer for. Yet.”

“Whatever it was made of, I couldn’t get close. It…hurt.”

“Damn!”

“Exactly.”

“But why spend all those Notions on building a ghost-proof building?”

“Well spent if you wanted to keep your secrets.”

“What do they have for the livin’?”

“I have no idea and that chills me.”

“What did your Sergeant say about all this?”

“I haven’t told him yet.”

“Why not?”

Someone knocked on the door.

“Please come in.”

Sergeant Gendarme Arpin entered and took in the scene.

“We know where the League of Spiders lives!” blurted out Nikita.

Arpin’s whiskers twitched.

“Congratulations Detective. You promised me a surprise and I can honestly say whatever I expected, it was not this.”

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