As it was late autumn, the tree trunks in the Pellucid Garden had begun to turn a deep azure. It was an indication that winter would soon arrive. Strategically opened windows in the geodesic dome that covered the park let the wind rush through which produced what was described by some as preternatural music.
Sitting at the outdoor bar located near the northern quarter of the garden, Arpin drank a rather enjoyable Nebbiolo. He had just drained the last of it when the bartender placed another glass in front of him.
“From the gentleman,” said the young woman as she nodded to her right.
The Old Man, leader of the League of Spiders, raised his glass to Arpin who reciprocated.
“May I join you?” asked the Old Man?
Settling on the stool next to Arpin, the Old Man observed, “I always loved coming here at this time of year. There’s something comforting about seeing the colors change.”
“I would not have thought you a romantic.”
“Because I’m an evil mastermind?” he replied with a smirk.
“More because you strike me as a pragmatic fellow.”
“That and your ruthless and amoral methods.”
“I think I preferred being pragmatic.”
“Thank you for the wine.”
“You’re quite welcome and congratulations.”
“I hear you were promoted.”
Arpin took out his insignia. It was gold and inlaid with a lapis numeral one.
“Gendarme Detective Class Première! Quite an honor.”
“Indeed. It also allows me to begin my own investigations.”
“It does. As I’m positive you knew.”
The Old Man simply smiled and took a sip of his wine.
“This is obviously not a chance meeting, so are you going to tell me what you want?”
“You’ve such a sharp mind, a shame it is wasted in civil service.”
“A hammer may be used to build a house or to murder someone.”
“It’s never our intention to harm people. We only seek to keep everyone safe.”
“Not everyone. You’re comfortable doing whatever it takes to achieve your goals.”
The Old Man turned and looked at the many people visiting the Pellucid Garden that day. Children ran and parents tried, with limited success, to catch them. Artists sketched the crystalline plant life. A figure wearing a brass diving helmet floated by arm-in-arm with a smartly dressed, green skinned woman.
“To save the Arrondissement, how many would you let die?”
“I think I’d find a way to save everyone.”
“You sound like a Chevalier.”
“Clearly not a compliment but I’ll take it as such.”
“Don’t you agree that sometimes sacrifices must be made?”
“It is not your place, nor mine to ask others to give their lives without their knowledge or consent.”
“You must take in the larger picture.”
“I think, if you want to protect the Arrondissement, you must remember that it is more than just a place. I became a Gendarme so people could spend the afternoon enjoying the Pellucid Garden. Or making love. Even just sitting quietly.”
“We don’t look to end any of that. However, if one life is taken to ensure others continue, I consider it well paid.”
Arpin’s whiskers twitched as he said, “While a deep debate on relativistic morality might be an interesting diversion, neither of us are going to sway each other to another side. So, why have you sought me out?”
“I have a question I wished to ask you. May I?”
“You are free to ask, although I may not be able to answer.”
“Agreed. I’m here because I offered you a boon, for delivering a message to the Marshal.”
“That feels like quite a long time ago.”
“For both of us.”
“These are facts, not a question.”
“Why did you never take advantage of this opportunity? I would answer any question or do whatever you wished. But you didn’t use this great gift.”
“A fair question. Partially, because it is such a great gift. What question should I ask? What favor to request? It’s not something to squander.”
“I find it hard to believe that you couldn’t think of anything.”
“Perhaps I just forgot.”
“That seems unlikely.”
“True. I had considered it at our last meeting if no compromise could be reached. But it ended without me having to invoke the boon.”
“You could’ve used it when we had our first parley. I thought there was an excellent chance you would.”
“Too many variables then.”
“I think you were too cautious.”
The Gendarme’s head hung as he softly said, “You may be right. Certainly, after time stopped, I wish I had.”
“I might’ve spared the lives of the Unexpected Chevalier as well as your Repairperson. Or it might’ve made things much worse. Of course, it’s impossible to tell. But still…”
“Does anything occur to you now?”
“I still do not want to waste it.”
Raising his glass once more, the Old Man said, “Let us drink to the future.”
They clinked glasses, looked each other in the eye, and drank.
“Well Gendarme Detective Class Première Arpin, as always it was a pleasure speaking with you. Have a pleasant day and once again, congratulations.”
Finishing his wine, the Old Man stood up and began to walk away.
“Then again…” mused Arpin.
Nothing showed on the Old Man’s face but Arpin detected the faint odor of bitter orange.